The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Baenig, others take new positions at USDA

BrIan Baenig has assumed the position of Agriculture assistant secretary for congressional relations, a USDA spokesman said today. He was sworn in by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Oct. 17 after being confirmed by the Senate, the spokesman said.

Baenig previously served as the deputy undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. From 2009 to 2011, he served as deputy staff director on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Before that, he served as senior policy adviser to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and was on the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also served for several years as a legislative assistant to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.

Suzanne Palmieri, who has been acting assistant secretary for congressional relations since May, when Krysta Harden left that post to become chief of staff to Vilsack, has returned to her role as the chief of staff to Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

Joani Walsh has assumed Baenig's position as deputy undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. Walsh joined USDA in July 2010 as chief of staff for Agriculture Undersecretary for Research, Education & Economics Catherine Woteki. In April 2011, she was asked to serve as the interim USDA communications director when Chris Mather left to join the staff of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Before her appointment at USDA, Walsh was the assistant staff secretary at the White House, and worked on the Obama presidential campaign and transition team. Before that she served as executive director for Foodroutes Network, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening regional, sustainable food and agricultural systems. A Pennsylvania native, Walsh earned a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University as a Public Service Fellow and a bachelor's degree. in political science from Pennsylvania State University.

Yeshi Abebe, adviser to the secretary for special projects, will serve as acting chief of staff in REE until an appointment is made.

Rebecca Blue has been named deputy undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, succeeding Ann Wright, who has become deputy assistant secretary for congressional relations.

Blue was appointed to USDA's Office of Congressional Relations in 2009, and served as the legislative director until this August, when she was asked to fill the role as acting deputy undersecretary for MRP. Earlier in her tenure at the department, Blue was also asked to fill a temporary assignment as the agricultural attaché to the US Ambassador to Argentina. Before rejoining USDA, she served as a legislative assistant to then-Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. A native of South Dakota, she graduated from South Dakota State University after studying agronomy and soil science.

James Gore has been named assistant chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Gore has served as special assistant to Assistant Secretary for Administration Pearlie Reed, and acting director of the Office of the Executive Secretariat, where he and his staff directly administered correspondence, records, and special projects on behalf of the office of the secretary.

Before joining USDA, Gore represented the U.S wine and winegrape industry on international affairs and trade. He also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia, where he led community projects in agriculture and natural resource management. Gore is from California, where his family owns and operates vineyards in Sonoma County.

Lisa Pino has been named senior adviser for supplemental nutrition assistance program known as SNAP and formerly known as food stamps. Pino is an attorney.

Erin Hannigan, deputy director for interovernmental affairs has begun a 90-day detail with the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Ashlee Johnson, a legislative analyst in the Office of Congressional Relations will work in intergovernmental relations until an appointment is made.