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Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman
Ann M. Veneman

As the 27th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Ann M. Veneman managed a department of 111,000 employees, the sixth-largest employer in the federal government, with personnel in more than 25,000 buildings around the world; a program level of $113 billion that would rank USDA sixth if it were a U.S. corporation (behind GE and ahead of Citigroup); a spending level that ranks fifth in the federal government; a loan portfolio that would rank USDA seventh if it were a U.S. bank; and one of the most diverse and challenging missions across all of government.

Nominated by President George W. Bush, and sworn in as the first woman Secretary of USDA on January 20, 2001, Secretary Veneman presided over one of the most historic times in American agriculture. Her tenure included record farm income, record agricultural exports and the creation of stronger pest and disease protection systems for the country. Much of her career has been dedicated to food and agriculture issues and advancing sound U.S. farm and food policies. Having grown up on a family farm in a small rural community, Ann Veneman understands the issues that are important to America´s farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

To help lead USDA into the 21st century, Secretary Veneman in 2001 released the Bush Administration´s vision for American agriculture in Food and Agricultural Policy: Taking Stock for the New Century. This publication outlined emerging trends in agriculture, with a focus on farm-sector policy, trade expansion, infrastructure enhancement, conservation and the environment, rural communities, nutrition and food assistance, and USDA program integration.

This consistent policy vision, along with Secretary Veneman´s bipartisan approach and emphasis on the improved management of USDA, yielded many accomplishments:

Almost immediately after taking office, Secretary Veneman confronted the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe with a strong response that helped avert a similar disaster in the United States. Acting quickly and before some key USDA leadership positions had been filled, she took significant steps to strengthen U.S. protection systems. After September 11, 2001, she made additional enhancements to homeland security. Secretary Veneman has been an advocate for strong pest and disease, food safety and research programs to ensure that U.S. agriculture and consumers have a safe, wholesome food supply and the infrastructure to protect it.

She has provided strong leadership in protecting public health and animal health during the discovery of Bovine Spongiform Encepholopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in a cow in Washington State, as well as during outbreaks of avian influenza and exotic Newcastle disease in poultry, both of which were quickly eradicated.

Secretary Veneman played a key role in reducing trade barriers and expanding opportunities for American farmers through new export markets. Aggressive trade policies have made a strong contribution to record agricultural exports in 2004 ($62.3 billion).

Secretary Veneman focused strongly on new approaches to help feed the hungry around the world. To help meet the 1996 World Food Summit´s goal of reducing global hunger by half by 2015, she has promoted science and technology as a means to accelerate agricultural productivity. In 2003, she organized and hosted the first-ever Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology, which brought together ministers from 120 nations to Sacramento, California, to discuss how science and technology can reduce hunger and poverty in the developing world. The conference, as well as subsequent regional conferences and follow-up activities, helped recapture the momentum of the World Food Summit. For example, four African heads of state have now endorsed the promise of biotechnology on a continent that had been largely hesitant to do so.

At home, Secretary Veneman oversaw the reauthorization of the food stamp and child nutrition programs, which strengthen the ability of the Department to provide services to recipients and provide additional accountability to taxpayers. She finalized the transition from paper food stamps to electronic debit cards, which has reduced fraud in the program.

Secretary Veneman has been a strong public advocate for healthy lifestyle choices. Her obesity-prevention initiative spawned a scientific research conference that has cemented USDA´s lead role in federal obesity-prevention research, and which will help scientists pursue a national research agenda. She has directed leaders at USDA to ensure consistency and effectiveness in the Department´s nutrition-education messages and has led efforts to bring scientific principles to the revision of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Secretary Veneman directed new management approaches that helped ensure the quick and efficient implementation of the most complex farm bill in U.S. history, and President Bush´s Healthy Forests Initiative, which defends our vital national forests against the risk of devastating wildfires, resulting in record levels of fuels reductions in national forests.

Secretary Veneman worked to foster the next generation of agricultural leadership, establishing USDA´s "Leaders of Tomorrow" initiative to strengthen education programs, particularly those involved with mentoring youth. She has increased the number of internships that are available at USDA, and encouraged young people to seek career opportunities at USDA and across the food and agricultural spectrum.

As part of several actions to implement the President´s Management Agenda (PMA), Secretary Veneman began USDA´s e-Government Initiative, which has made an unprecedented array of programs and services available electronically. In addition, USDA for the first time ever received a clean financial audit, a status the Department has now attained three years in a row.

Secretary Veneman has served various positions at USDA and in state government. From 1991 to 1993, Veneman was USDA´s Deputy Secretary, the Department´s second-highest position. She also served as Deputy Under Secretary of Agriculture for International Affairs and Commodity Programs from 1989 to 1991. Veneman joined the USDA´s Foreign Agricultural Service in 1986 and eventually served as Associate Administrator until 1989. From 1995 to 1999, Veneman served as Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

Veneman began her legal career as a staff attorney with the General Counsel´s office of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) in Oakland, California, in 1976. In 1978, she returned to her hometown of Modesto, where she served as a Deputy Public Defender. In 1980, she joined the Modesto law firm of Damrell, Damrell and Nelson, where she was an associate and later a partner. She left the firm in 1986 when she moved to Washington, D.C., to work at USDA.

She practiced law with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Patton Boggs from 1993 to 1995 before returning to California to serve as the state´s Secretary of Food and Agriculture, where she managed agricultural programs and services for the nation´s largest and most diverse agriculture-producing state. Before her appointment as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Veneman was with the California law firm of Nossaman, Guthner, Knox and Elliott.

Secretary Veneman earned her bachelor´s degree in political science from the University of California, Davis; a master´s degree in public policy from the University of California, Berkeley; and a juris doctorate degree from the University of California, Hastings College of Law. She has also been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (2001); Lincoln University of Missouri (2003); and Delaware State University (2004).

Secretary Veneman has received several awards and distinctions, including: Cal Aggie Alumni Citation for Excellence (1995); National Farm-City Week Award given by the Kiwanis Club of Greater Modesto (1995); Outstanding Woman in International Trade Award (2001); UC Davis Outstanding Alumna of the Year Award (2001); Food Research and Action Center Award (2001); National 4-H Alumni Recognition Award (2002); Dutch American Heritage Award (2002); Junior Statesman Foundation Statesman of the Year Award (2002); United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Distinguished Service Award (2002); California Council for International Trade Golden State Award (2002); Goldman School of Public Policy Alumnus of the Year Award (2003); California Agriculturalist of the Year (2003); Sigma Alpha Sorority Honorary Membership (2004); Republican Main Street Partnership John Chafee Award for Distinguished Public Service (2004); American PVO Partners Award for Service to People in Need (2004); and U.S. State Department U.S. Afghan Women´s Council Honorary Membership (2004).

Veneman assumed the leadership of UNICEF on May 1, 2005, becoming the fifth Executive Director to lead UNICEF in its 60-year history.