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McKenna named to head 'Feed the Future' at USAID

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah announced today that Tjada McKenna will head the agency’s “Feed the Future” program and that Julie Howard, who has been heading that effort, will become the chief scientist for the Bureau of Food Security, the USAID division in which the program is located, and his senior adviser on agricultural research, extension and education.

“Feed the Future” is the Obama administration’s signature development effort. Its goal is to increase global food security through agricultural development in the Third World while still recognizing the need for a continuation of food aid programs.
Tjada McKenna

PHOTO: Tjada McKenna

McKenna has been deputy assistant administrator in the Bureau for Food Security and “oversaw critical elements of USAID’s implementation of ‘Feed the Future,’ " the agency said in a news release.

“In her new role, McKenna will coordinate the initiative’s implementation across the U.S. government, oversee its execution and report on ensuring results, and lead engagement with the external community to ensure that food security remains high on the global development agenda,” the agency added.

McKenna was a senior program officer in the agriculture development initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle when Shah headed that division of the foundation.

In a news release, Shah said Howard’s appointment as a science adviser reflected “an emphasis on science and research” in the program.

But the change in positions also reflects the difficulties the administration has had with leadership at the top of “Feed the Future.” McKenna is the third person in two years to hold the title of deputy coordinator for development at the program.

William J. Garvelink, a career Foreign Service officer who had served as U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, held the job from May 2010 until March 28 when Howard, who had been the executive director and chief executive officer of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa, took the position.

An outside source with a strong knowledge of “Feed the Future” said that McKenna has the confidence of the White House.

One of the issues with "Feed the Future" has been the organizational structure. The Obama administration set up the leadership team to have a deputy coordinator for development at USAID and a deputy coordinator for diplomacy at the State Department, with an overall coordinator above both those positions.

No one has ever been hired as coordinator.

An internal USAID memo issued today and obtained by The Hagstrom Report said “the search is ongoing,” but an Obama administration source said that “the search for a coordinator is not active,” and that Shah “has a background and passion” for the initiative and has been serving as de facto coordinator and a leader of the effort on a “presidential whole of government” level.

McKenna’s counterpart at State is Jonathan Shrier, whose title has been the “Feed the Future” acting deputy coordinator for diplomacy within the Office of the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative.

Today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Shrier will also have the title of acting special representative for global food security, and that the name of his office has been changed to the Office of Global Food Security. He focuses on relationships with major donor and strategic partner countries as well as multilateral institutions such as the G8 and G20.

USAID announced today that McKenna, Shrier and Jose Fernandez, the assistant secretary of State for economic, energy and business affairs, will travel to Des Moines next week to participate in events surrounding the World Food Prize with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Shrier, a career Foreign Service officer, worked in State's Policy Planning office before moving to “Feed the Future.” He also served as the principal deputy assistant secretary and acting assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the Energy Department, where he helped design and establish President Barack Obama’s Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas.

During the Bush administration, Shrier handled international trade and investment issues for then Undersecretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs Josette Sheeran, who is now executive director of the U.N. World Food Program. During his service at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Shrier worked with USAID to establish a development assistance program for Tibetan communities in China, with a focus on agriculture-led development.

Paul Weisenfeld, assistant to the administrator, will continue to direct the Bureau of Food Security, which the Obama administration formed by bringing together programs from other divisions of USAID. Weisenfeld is a career Foreign Service officer with the rank of minister-counselor.