The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Sheeran, Cousin, Glickman vie for World Food Program post

Josette SheeranErtarin CousinDan Glickman
Josette Sheeran | Ertharin Cousin | Dan Glickman


U.N. World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. food agencies in Rome Ertharin Cousin, and former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman have become embroiled in an increasingly public spectacle over who will lead WFP when Sheeran’s term expires in April.

WFP is the Rome-based U.N. arm that distributes food aid worldwide and tries to encourage conditions under which the need for food aid would be eliminated. The United States is the biggest donor to the WFP, and an American has held the job of executive director since 1992, but there is no guarantee the United States will keep the job.

Sheeran, a Republican who served in the George W. Bush administration and was appointed WFP executive director in 2007 by U.N. officials at Bush’s recommendation, has sought another five-year term, but U.S. officials have told Sheeran and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon that they will not support her reappointment, sources have told The Hagstrom Report.

A team of U.S. officials have interviewed Sheeran, Cousin and Glickman for the job, sources said, but apparently they have not made a decision about whether to support either Cousin or Glickman or to send both their names to the United Nations for consideration.

The WFP appointment process is complicated. Governments recommend candidates, and the United Nations sometimes also invites applications for the position. The appointment is made jointly by the U.N. secretary general and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization director general.

The FAO job is also about to change hands. FAO Director General Jacques Diouf will be succeeded early in 2012 by Jose Graziano da Silva, a Brazilian who was recently elected to that post. By U.N. regulation, the secretary general and the FAO director general must consult with the WFP executive board, but the board does not have veto power.

The WFP executive board is composed of 36 members, 18 elected by the U.N. Economic and Social Council and 18 by the FAO Council. The board is meeting this week in Rome and the subject of WFP succession has become a subject of discussion on blogs that cover the United Nations.

Some critics have maintained that the United Nations has been slow to act on the U.S. recommendation, but sources close to the U.N. process said that, while the United States has informed the United Nations it will not support Sheeran, it has not sent forward a candidate. Some critics have privately suggested that the Obama administration is late in sending forward a candidate, but sources with U.N. experience said the decision on the WFP executive director has sometimes been made early in the year that the term begins.

There is also a view that Graziano da Silva rather than Diouf should be the one making the choice, because he will be the FAO director general who will have to work with the new WFP executive director.

Sheeran would be eligible for a second term, but sources have said that Ban has written the WFP executive board that the process of selecting the next executive director will be an “open” process — a signal that the United States has told him that it will not support Sheeran’s reappointment.

The Obama administration’s decision not to support a second term for Sheeran is not surprising. The administration did not support a second term for UNICEF executive director Ann Veneman, who had been Agriculture secretary under Bush and appointed to the UNICEF post at Bush’s recommendation. Instead, the administration encouraged U.N. officials to appoint Tony Lake, a national security adviser in the Clinton administration, and Lake now holds that post.

Sheeran is a much more controversial figure politically than Veneman. Before Bush appointed Sheeran to positions as deputy U.S. Trade Representative and undersecretary of State for economic, business and agricultural affairs, she was editor of The Washington Times when that newspaper vigorously pursued stories on the involvement of President Bill Clinton and now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Whitewater real estate venture, and on the death of White House aide Vince Foster.

At that time Sheeran used the name Josette Shiner, and accounts of her views at that time are available online. Reports on Sheeran’s management of WFP are mixed.

Sheeran and some members of her staff have tried to convince other countries to go to bat for her reappointment, including at today’s board meeting, sources say. But three American sources with ties to the U.N. food agencies in Rome have told The Hagstrom Report that it is virtually impossible for someone to gain a high U.N. post without the support of his or her own government.

If Sheeran were to succeed, she would also be in an impossible position because the U.S. government might be inclined to distribute its food aid money through other organizations, one source said.

A team of State Department, Agriculture Department and U.S. Agency for International Development officials interviewed Sheeran, Cousin and Glickman for the post, but it is unclear whether the Cabinet officials have made a recommendation to the White House.

Cousin definitely has closer ties to the White House. In a 2009 National Journal interview, Cousin said of Barack Obama, “When I was working on campaigns and he was doing voter registration, I was thinking, ‘Who is this kid?’ He was a little baby. He is almost 10 years younger than me. He was doing this very effective voter-registration drive on the South Side of Chicago. He came into the city like a storm. [At the time, the Obamas] lived about a block and a half from me, and I would see him at the grocery store. So during the general election for the Senate, I tried to be helpful to them as much as I could.”

A native of Chicago and a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Georgia School of Law, Cousin worked for the Clinton administration for four years, including as deputy chief of staff for the Democratic National Committee and White House liaison at the State Department.

In 1997, when she returned to Chicago, she received a White House appointment to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development. In Chicago, she became senior vice president of Albertsons Foods and vice-president for government and community affairs for Jewel Food stores.

She also served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Feeding America (then known as America’s Second Harvest), the nation’s largest domestic hunger organization, where she led the organization’s response to Hurricane Katrina. As ambassador, Cousin has represented the United States before WFP, FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development and promoted Feed the Future, USAID’s effort to encourage agricultural development in Third World countries.

Several sources have said that Cousin strongly wants the WFP job, but some U.S. anti-hunger activists have raised questions about whether she has the experience to run a worldwide U.N. agency.

“There is concern about Cousin's administrative skills to run such a large agency,” said one prominent anti-hunger leader. “I think that concern is reaching the U.N. and they know that Secretary Glickman is favored by some key players in the United States.”

Those concerns, plus the idea that a former Agriculture secretary who is well known on Capitol Hill would have an easier time convincing Congress to maintain the budget for WFP, led the anti-hunger leaders to encourage Glickman to be interviewed for the job.

Glickman, who represented the Wichita, Kans., area in the U.S. House of Representatives for 18 years before serving in the Clinton administration as Agriculture secretary from 1995 to 2001, left the agriculture field to become president of the Motion Picture Association of America from 2004 to 2010, but is now taking an active role in agricultural policy.

Glickman is on the boards of the Food Research Action Center and the 4-H Council, and vice chairman of WFP USA, a Washington-based nonprofit that encourages support for WFP’s activities. He is also co-chairman of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs global agricultural development initiative and a fellow of the Bipartisan Policy Center among other positions.

Sheeran’s Washington office, Glickman, and a State Department official did not return emails requesting comment. Cousin’s office, the Agriculture Department and a USAID official declined to comment.