Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden to leave USDA at end of February

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2016 - Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden, who led the implementation of the 2014 farm bill, says she's leaving USDA at the end of February. Michael Scuse, the current under secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, has been tapped as acting deputy.

“Today is bittersweet for me,” Harden said in a release announcing her planned departure. “I am proud of what our department has accomplished since 2009 to bring economic opportunity that will help rural America thrive for generations to come. And although I will not be part of the many great and transformational things USDA will accomplish over the next year, I am more committed than ever to USDA's mission.”

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Harden, who grew up on a farm in Georgia, served USDA for seven years alongside the Obama administration's longest serving cabinet member, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. In her parting statement, Harden thanked Vilsack and President Barack Obama “for the opportunity to be part of their team.”

“As the proud daughter of farmers and someone who cherishes rural values, I couldn't have served for anyone more genuine and committed to making a difference than Secretary Vilsack. My work at USDA on behalf of our farmers, ranchers, producers and rural communities has been the greatest honor of my professional life.”

Harden was sworn in as the deputy secretary in August 2013. She started with USDA in the Office of Congressional Relations, helping to shepherd through Congress the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and legislation to obtain funding to help resolve claims of discrimination by African-American farmers. She called these measures “two of the most significant pieces of legislation in our time here.”

Harden also served as chief of staff to Vilsack, who released a statement praising his deputy.

“Krysta Harden shares a special bond with rural America and agriculture that is deeply rooted in her family history and personal values, embodying the mission of USDA in a genuine way,” Vilsack said. “I greatly appreciate her many years of service to the Obama Administration and to USDA. But more than anything, I am grateful for her friendship, sound judgement and leadership as a key member of my team since 2009.”

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Richard Wilkins, president of the American Soybean Association, thanked Harden “for her service to the nation's farmers.”

“Krysta Harden is the kind of public servant that comes along only too rarely. She has blended a personal background, professional knowledge base, and exceptional passion for agriculture into a career that has served farmers at every level,” Wilkins said in a release. “We are of course sad to see her go, but happy to know that she will continue her service and her outstanding advocacy for farmers and rural Americans wherever she goes.”

The president of the National Corn Growers Association, Chip Bowling, also released a statement on Harden's departure, saying he was “sad to see her go.”

“I appreciate Deputy Secretary Harden for her no-nonsense, common-sense leadership. At a time when too many people in Washington seem to be shouting at one another, she knows how to build bridges and put everyone at ease,” Bowling said.

Prior to joining the USDA, Harden worked as the chief executive officer of the National Association of Conservation Districts, senior vice president of Gordley Associates, staff director for the House subcommittee on Peanuts and Tobacco, and chief of staff and press secretary for the former Congressman Charles Hatcher.

Vilsack said Alexis Taylor, the current deputy under secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, will assume the duties of under secretary at FFAS.

In a separate announcement, USDA said John Clifford, the chief veterinarian with the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, will transition from his current role as deputy administrator for veterinary services to a new job as the chief trade adviser for veterinary services with APHIS' National Import Export Services staff at the beginning of March. In his new role, Clifford, a 30-year veteran of APHIS, will focus on global trade issues as they relate to veterinary practices in the U.S.

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