WASHINGTON, March 15, 2013 - Outgoing USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan thanked President Obama and the Senate today for the opportunity to serve the administration.
“It has been an ambitious first term,” Merrigan said. “From implementing the 2008 farm bill, improving school meals, expanding opportunities for American farmers, spending countless hours in the White House situation room, to shepherding USDA budgets through challenging times, it has been an honor to play a small part in history.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced her abrupt, unexpected resignation late March 14.
“USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan has helped USDA achieve record results over the past four years,” Vilsack said. “She has played a vital role in the department-wide focus on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, as well as our efforts to achieve budget efficiencies and savings during an uncertain budget time. Deputy Secretary Merrigan has led USDA’s efforts to implement important regulations, and she has been an important advocate for a strong National Organic Program....I deeply appreciate her service, and I wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”
Merrigan will step down from her post in May, but no reason has been given. Indeed, Merrigan's active public schedule gave no hint that she was on her way out the door. USDA actively promoted several recent appearances she made to advocate for her favorite causes - local food production and marketing and healthy diets.
In response to the announcement, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said she is “saddened” to hear Merrigan is leaving USDA.
“Because of her commitment and leadership, we have had a tireless leader at USDA for a range of issues like specialty crops, local food production, and organic food,” DeLauro said. “And her outreach to and engagement with producers across the country, including those in my home state of Connecticut, has been phenomenal. She will be missed, but I wish her the best.”
Merrigan made the announcement late Thursday at the regular weekly meeting of political appointees arranged by USDA’s White House liaison office. She told colleagues that she planned to remain active in food policy but did not know where she would work.
She was “positive” and “upbeat” about her four years as the number two official in the department, according to one participant who is an admirer of Merrigan. At one point she reminisced about her role, as administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service during the Clinton administration, in seeing the National Organic Program take effect. She was described as relaxed and comfortable with her departure.
Before becoming deputy secretary, Merrigan served for eight years as assistant professor and director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment graduate program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Boston, Mass.
She also served as administrator of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service in the Clinton administration. She then worked with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., as a senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
Merrigan holds a Ph.D. degree in environmental planning and policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Master of Public Affairs degree from the University of Texas, and a B.A. degree from Williams College.
Merrigan was sworn in as USDA deputy secretary on April 8, 2009.
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