President Joe Biden has selected Xochitl Torres Small, a former member of the House Ag Committee, as undersecretary of rural development at the Agriculture Department.
If confirmed, Torres Small would be in charge of a mission area with wide-ranging responsibilities, including rural electric cooperative loans, broadband expansion, community development and infrastructure funding, value-added producer grants and funding for renewable energy and biofuel projects.
“Throughout her career, Torres Small has employed her experience organizing in vulnerable, rural communities to achieve lasting investments that combat persistent poverty,” the White House said.
In a statement, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said he is "fully confident in Representative Torres Small’s ability to excel in this essential role at the Department.”
"Throughout her career, Representative Torres Small has put her experience to use in the name of making lasting investments in the people, institutions and infrastructure essential for tribal nations and communities throughout the rural U.S. to thrive," he said. "Her expertise will further USDA’s mission to advance equity and opportunity in and for rural America."
Torres Small served one term in Congress representing New Mexico’s second congressional district, which includes roughly the southern half of the state. She was elected in 2018 and served on the House Agriculture as well as Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees.
"She was a champion for rural development, particularly expanding high-speed internet, during her time in Congress, and I look forward to her nomination,” said Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
The White House credited her with keeping open a rural hospital in her district, securing rural broadband funds through USDA’s ReConnect Program, and raising the concern for dairy farmers impacted by implementation issues of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Before her time in Congress, Torres Small was a staffer for former Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and a judicial law clerk for a federal judge.
The position of rural development undersecretary has been the subject of some controversy in recent years. During the Trump administration, then-Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue reorganized the department, a move that shifted the top rural development official to a staff person rather than a Senate-confirmed undersecretary. The position was elevated back to an undersecretary in the 2018 farm bill.
Three others are awaiting Senate confirmation to USDA roles. Janie Simms Hipp has been cleared by the Senate Ag Committee to be the department’s next general counsel; Robert Bonnie and Jenny Lester Moffitt are both awaiting confirmation hearings. Bonnie has been tapped as undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation and Lester Moffitt is the administration’s pick to head up USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs.
Interested in more news on farm programs, trade and rural issues? Sign up for a four-week free trial to Agri-Pulse. You’ll receive our content - absolutely free - during the trial period.
On Friday, Biden also announced a pair of Interior Department officials who will hold roles key to ag and food policy.
Laura Daniel-Davis has been picked as the next assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management at DOI. Daniel-Davis was chief of staff to Interior Secretaries Sally Jewell and Ken Salazar during the Obama administration.
She currently serves as the principal deputy assistant secretary in the same mission area she is nominated to lead, where she oversees the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
Biden picked Camille Calimlim Touton as the next commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. She is currently the BOR’s deputy commissioner and also has experience on Capitol Hill at the Transportation and Infrastructure as well as Natural Resources committees in the House and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Story updated to include Vilsack statement.
For more news, go to www.Agri-Pulse.com.