Robert Bonnie, who oversaw USDA natural resource programs during the Obama administration, is leading the department’s transition review effort for President-elect Joe Biden, while several EPA alumni are assisting with setting up the new administration’s operations at that agency.
Jonathan Coppess, a former Senate Agriculture Committee aide who also served as administrator of the Farm Service Agency under President Barack Obama, also is on the team along with Deb Eschmeyer, who directed Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program and served as a White House nutrition policy adviser.
All three now have academic connections. Bonnie, who was USDA’s undersecretary for natural resources and the environment from 2013 to 2017, is now executive in residence at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
Coppess is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois. Eschmeyer has her own consulting business and serves as senior fellow and head of innovation with Arizona State University’s Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems. The Swette Center's executive director is Kathleen Merrigan, who was a deputy USDA secretary during Obama's first term; she is not part of the transition team.
According to the Biden transition website, the teams "have been crafted to ensure they not only reflect the values and priorities of the incoming administration, but reflect the diversity of perspectives crucial for addressing America’s most urgent and complex challenges."
Other USDA alumni on the 17-member USDA transition review team include Gregory Parham, who was assistant secretary for administration during the Obama administration, and Kumar Chandran, who was a staff director in USDA’s Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services division. Chandran is now policy director for FoodCorps, a group that promotes good nutrition in schools.
Others on the 17-member USDA transition team include Andrea Delgado, government affairs director for the United Farm Workers Foundation, LaQuita Honeysucker, legislative director for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and Sanah Baig, chief of staff for the Good Food Institute, Baig served in advisory roles at USDA under Obama.
The transition review team for the U.S. Trade Representative will be led by Jason Miller, who was deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the National Economic Council under Obama. He is now at the Brookings Institution.
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Leading the EPA transition team is Patrice Simms, vice president for healthy communities at the environmental law firm, Earthjustice.
Simms has worked at EPA as an attorney in the Office of General Counsel, was later counsel to EPA's Environmental Appeals Board, and has been a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He also served in the Obama administration as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources division.
Another member of the EPA team is Ken Kopocis, a law professor at Washington College of Law at American University who was a deputy assistant administrator for water while EPA was developing the now-defunct “waters of the U.S.” rule. He left EPA in late 2015 after 32 years at the agency.
Other former high-ranking EPA officials on the team include Michael McCabe, who was deputy administrator during the Clinton administration and served as Biden’s communications and projects director from 1987-95, Lisa Garcia, now at Grist magazine, who led EPA environmental justice efforts during the Obama administration; and Cynthia Giles, who was assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance from 2009-2017.
Kevin Washburn, dean of the Iowa College of Law, is the head of the Interior Department transition review team. He served as assistant secretary of Indian Affairs from October 2012 to January 2016.
According to his bio, “he has taught and published casebooks in specialty subjects, primarily the law of gaming and gambling and federal Indian law.”
Other members include Molly McUsic, president of the Wyss Foundation, who was counselor to Interior Secretary Babbitt during the Clinton administration, and USDA alumnus Janie Hipp, CEO of the Native American Agriculture Fund. Hipp also is founding director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas. She headed USDA's Office of Tribal Relations under Obama.
The Labor Department transition team is led by Chris Lu, who was deputy secretary of the department during the Obama administration. He is now senior strategy advisor for FiscalNote, a publishing firm whose properties include the CQ products and Roll Call.
The transition team whose responsibilities will include the U.S. Agency for International Development is led by Linda Etim, a former USDA administrator for Africa who is now senior advisor for global policy and advocacy with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Other members of that team include Michele Sumilas, a former chief of staff at USAID who is now executive director for Bread for the World, a policy advocacy group.
The transition team for the Department of Health and Human Services includes Mary Wakefield, a veteran of the department during the Obama administration and an aide to former Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. She co-chaired the Senate Rural Health Caucus staff organization.
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