President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he plans to nominate Homer Wilkes, the current director of the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Restoration Division of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as USDA's undersecretary for natural resources and environment.
Wilkes is a veteran of several different NRCS and USDA roles and has been with the department for more than 31 years. He has also spent time as the Mississippi state conservationist, the chief financial officer and acting associate chief of NRCS, and was also involved in overseeing the cleanup of the Gulf Coast following the BP oil spill in 2010.
In a statement, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the nomination "reflects USDA's commitment to putting agriculture, forestry and working lands at the center of solutions to increase climate resilience, sequester carbon, (and) protect our air and water."
Vilsack added Wilkes is a “collaborative leader with a track record of working towards large-scale solutions in partnership with communities. This spirit and approach position Dr. Wilkes to ensure that even with different leadership within the USDA subcabinet there is connectivity between NRCS and the Forest Service.”
Wilkes was first nominated to serve in the position in 2009 during the Obama administration, but withdrew his nomination for personal reasons, according to a report from E&E News.
The Natural Resources and Environment mission area has seen some jurisdictional changes in recent administrations. During Vilsack's previous tenure as secretary during the Obama administration, the NRE undersecretary oversaw both the Forest Service and NRCS. During the Trump administration, then-Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue shifted NRCS to the Farm Production and Conservation mission area, which also includes the Farm Service Agency and Risk Management Agency.
Wilkes joins a handful of others awaiting the Senate confirmation process before joining USDA. 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. Biden also announced an intent to nominate Xochitl Torres Small to head up USDA's rural development efforts last week.
Biden also announced on Wednesday that Cindy Hensley McCain would be his nominee for U.S. Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture with the rank of ambassador.
McCain, the wife of now-deceased former Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is the director of the Hensley Beverage Company. She also serves as a member and chair of the board of trustees of the Human Trafficking Council at the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University and as a member of the leadership council at the Too Small to Fail Initiative in New York City.
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