March 4, 2009

Onward to Washington

Assistant Professor Kathleen Merrigan is tapped as deputy secretary of agriculture

The Friedman School’s Kathleen Merrigan will be nominated for the post of deputy secretary of agriculture, the second-highest ranking official in the federal department.  Photo: Melody Ko

President Barack Obama announced in late February that he intends to nominate Assistant Professor Kathleen Merrigan for the second-highest position in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The deputy secretary of agriculture typically oversees day-to-day operations of the USDA, including development of a $95 billion budget for 26 agencies representing 300 programs and more than 100,000 employees. A formal nomination is expected in the coming weeks, with a confirmation hearing to follow.

Merrigan, the director of the Friedman School’s Agriculture, Food and Environment Program, was head of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service from 1999 to 2001, when she helped develop U.S. organic food-labeling standards. As a Senate aide, she worked on the 1990 law that recognized organic farming. Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition told Reuters that “sustainable and organic farmers are excited . . . that someone who has been associated with these issues her whole career is going to be at that level in the department.”

Hoefner encouraged the Senate to confirm Merrigan for the post, which would see her working with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who was confirmed on January 20.

Merrigan worked at the Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture and as a consultant to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization from 1994 to 1999. She worked on the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee from 1987 to 1992.

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