Xochitl Torres Small was sworn in as the USDA’s new deputy secretary Monday, a job she said is the next step in a “personal” relationship with the department that spans generations.

Torres Small, the granddaughter of farmworkers on one side of her family and a teacher and a minister on the other, offered brief remarks at the swearing-in ceremony at USDA’s Washington headquarters that stressed the wide array of services performed by the department and needed by the public.

“Although my connection to USDA feels very specific, very personal, it's really just one small example of the impact USDA leaves on each of our lives, in each of our stories,” she said.

Torres Small takes over as USDA’s deputy from Kevin Shea, the administrator of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service who had also been serving as USDA’s deputy in an acting capacity since the departure of Jewel Bronaugh. Bronaugh left the position earlier this year, citing a desire to spend more time with her family.

Torres Small first joined USDA as Undersecretary for Rural Development after being confirmed by the Senate to the position in October 2021. She was previously a member of Congress from New Mexico, serving on the House Ag Committee, and also has experience as a congressional staffer and judicial clerk.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack praised Torres Small's work in her previous roles, saying it exhibited the qualifications to be USDA's de facto chief operating officer.

“She is indeed extraordinarily curious. She is anxious to know, to learn; I think being the daughter of educators is probably a reason for that,” he said. Vilsack also lauded Torres Small’s “willingness to get her hands dirty in the nitty-gritty of governing.

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“This isn't just about the fun stuff, going off to ribbon cuttings and places where you're celebrating a grant here,” Vilsack added. “This is about sitting in on meetings and talking about ‘How do you make the bureaucracy work better? How do you figure out ways in which you get help to people more quickly?’”

Torres Small took the oath of office surrounded by her husband, New Mexico state representative Nathan Small, her parents and other members of her family.

President Joe Biden has not announced a nomination for the now-vacant position of Rural Development undersecretary; Roger Glendenning, previously RD's chief operating officer, is currently serving in the role in an acting capacity. 

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