WASHINGTON, March 27, 2013 – Along with the departure of Under Secretary of Rural Development Dallas Tonsager, USDA today announced a number of other staff changes.

Cheryl Cook has been appointed as USDA’s Chief Information Officer. Since April 2012, Cheryl has led all IT investments, operations, and management at USDA as the Acting CIO.  Prior to joining OCIO, she served as a Deputy Under Secretary in Rural Development, managing policies and programs in the RD’s three main areas: Business and Cooperatives, Housing and Community Facilities, and Utilities. Cook served from May 1993 until March 2000 as Rural Development's Pennsylvania State Director. She also worked in USDA's Washington, D.C. office as Executive Officer of the National Food and Agriculture Council. Between Federal appointments, Cook served as Deputy Secretary for Marketing and Economic Development at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and as Executive Director for the Keystone Development Center, a non-profit organization in Pennsylvania that helps new and emerging cooperatives. She was a member of the National Farmers Union's public policy staff, focusing on dairy, credit, and environmental issues. She also maintained a private law practice. Cook received her bachelor's degree from Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., and a law degree from The Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pa.

Johnie L. Jones has been appointed to serve as Deputy Chief of Staff for Rural Development.  Johnie joined USDA in 2011 as Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary. Prior to coming to USDA, Johnie served as a legislative aide for State Senator Troy Fraser in Austin, Texas.  In this role, he was responsible for tracking and reporting on issues relating to higher education programs and agriculture policy. Johnie’s agricultural experience also includes service as a Meadow Social Enterprise Fellow with the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service in Haiti where he spearheaded research to improve farming methods and to increase agricultural opportunities for citizens in the rural town of Creve. In the summer of 2008, he served as a legislative affairs intern in USDA’s Rural Development mission area.  Johnie earned his Master of Public Affairs degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas and has a B.S. in Agriculture Economics from Prairie View A&M University.

Mike Schmidt was appointed as the Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs in the Farm Service Agency.  Mike came to FSA from the Marketing and Regulatory Programs (MRP) mission area, where he served as Acting Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor.  Previously at USDA, he was the Acting Chief of Staff for a year at the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). Prior to joining USDA, Mike served 6 years on Capitol Hill as Legislative Assistant and then Senior Legislative Assistant for Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), advising the Senator on agriculture, telecommunications, transportation, and science issues.  This experience included actively pursuing a range of agricultural and rural priorities as part of the 2008 Farm Bill. In 2004, Mike was the Congressional Science Fellow sponsored by the Agronomy / Crop / Soil Science Societies of America in the Office of Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), where he acted as the Legislative Assistant for agriculture, gaining experience in dairy, fruit, specialty crop, trade, food safety and environmental issues. He received his Master's of Science in Public Understanding of Environmental Change from the University College London. He also has a Master's of Science in Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences along with his undergraduate degrees in Environmental Science and Biology from Virginia Tech.

Susan Keith has been appointed as Deputy Administrator for Packers and Stockyards Program in the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).  Before joining GIPSA, she served as Senior Counselor to the General Counsel.   Prior to her tenure at the Department of Agriculture, Ms. Keith served as General Counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.  During the 1990’s, Ms. Keith worked for the National Corn Growers on legislative and policy matters.  She began her Federal career as a Legislative Assistant to Congressman Dave Nagle.  Prior to coming to the Washington, DC area, she practiced law in Waterloo, Iowa.  Susan earned a J.D. from the University of Iowa and a B.A. from Coe College.


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