After nearly three months alone at the USDA, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is on the verge of being joined by a Biden appointee with sub-cabinet rank. On a voice vote with no objections, the Senate Agriculture Committee cleared Jewel Bronaugh on Monday for a floor vote to become deputy agriculture secretary.
If confirmed, as is expected, she would be the first Black person to hold the job. Bronaugh, now the Virginia commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, has broad bipartisan support. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is moving nominees as quickly as possible so a Senate confirmation vote could take place soon.
Two days before he took office, President Biden announced Bronaugh was his choice for the No. 2 post at the USDA. She was among five women tabbed to become deputy secretaries across the government. At USDA, the deputy secretary is in charge of day-to-day operations of one of the largest federal departments, with more than 84,000 employees and a budget of $150 billion a year.
Biden has nominated two people to serve as undersecretaries at USDA, Robert Bonnie to oversee farm subsidies and land stewardship and Jennifer Moffitt with the portfolio for marketing and regulatory services. There are six other undersecretary slots to fill. Each undersecretary has jurisdiction over an arm of USDA — food safety, public nutrition or the national forests, for example. Biden also has nominated Janie Hipp for general counsel, USDA’s chief lawyer.
Bronaugh has been Virginia agriculture and consumer commissioner since 2018. She was Virginia state director of USDA’s Farm Service Agency during the final years of the Obama administration after serving as dean of agriculture at historically Black Virginia State University. Bronaugh has a doctoral degree from Virginia Tech.
“It is clear Dr. Bronaugh is a highly qualified leader who has strong experience working on the ground to support our farmers, families, and rural communities,” said Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, the senior Republican on the committee, noted Bronaugh was “just one step away from making history as the first African American woman to serve as deputy secretary at USDA. I encourage quick confirmation of her nomination to make that happen.”
A USDA spokesman said Bronough “is an inspiring leader, educator, and a champion for farmers and rural communities, and she will make an outstanding Deputy Secretary of Agriculture if confirmed. We are hopeful for a swift confirmation by the Senate.”
The Partnership for Public Service’s “political appointee tracker” is available here.