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U.S. Department of Agriculture Announces Key Staff

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2021 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced the names of individuals who will hold key staff positions in Washington, D.C.

Michael Amato was named Communications Director in the Office of Communications. Prior to joining USDA, Amato founded Amato Advisors where he provided strategic, political, public affairs and crisis communications to a range of diverse clients. He served on the Biden-Harris transition team as the Deputy Lead on the General Government Appointments Team. In the Obama-Biden Administration, Amato served as the Director of Communications in the Office of Personnel Management. Prior to that, Amato held roles as a Professional Staff Member and the Communications Director for the minority on the House Armed Services Committee, as Communications Director for Rep. Adam Smith, and as the Assistant Press Secretary for Philadelphia Mayor John Street. He is a graduate of Temple University.

Dr. Basil Gooden was named Director of State Operations for Rural Development. Dr. Gooden recently served as a Visiting Scholar in the Sustainable Food Access Core of the Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation (iCubed) at Virginia Commonwealth University. From 2016-2018, he served as the 3rd Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Prior to that, Dr. Gooden served as the Virginia State Director for Rural Development at USDA. He has previously held roles as the Chief Deputy Director of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, as an Extension Specialist in Community Vitality at Virginia Tech, and as a County Committee Advisor for the Buckingham/Cumberland County, USDA-Farm Service Agency. Dr. Gooden holds a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech, a master’s degree in Social Work from Syracuse University, and a master’s degree in Public Health and a Ph.D. in Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a native of Buckingham County, Virginia, where he and his family still own and operate a cattle farm.

Daniel Whitley was named Administrator in the Foreign Agricultural Service. Whitley most recently served as Acting Administrator in the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). Prior to that role, he was the Associate Administrator responsible for leading the agency’s trade policy and market analysis teams. During his 20-plus year career in FAS, Daniel has served in a number of leadership roles including Deputy Administrator of the Office of Global Analysis and the Director of the Office of Civil Rights. He began his career with the Economic Research Service working on market access issues in the World Trade Organization. Whitley holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural economics, is a proud graduate of Southern University and A&M College and Louisiana State University, and resides in Washington, DC.

Marissa Perry was named Speechwriter in the Office of Communications. Recently, Perry served as the Communications Director, and previously as Press Secretary, for former Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Prior to that, she held communications roles on Bullock’s re-election campaign, in the state legislature, and in the Montana Governor’s Office of Community Service where she worked on food security issues and with national service programs. Perry grew up in Idaho and is a graduate of the University of Montana.

“The combined experience of Michael, Dr. Gooden, Daniel and Marissa will continue our efforts at USDA to effectively serve people in communities across the country—and around the world,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Each is an essential member of our growing team and we are grateful to have them serving in these roles.”


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