Skip to main content

Secretary Vilsack Awards Employees for Exceptional Service Supporting, Advancing U.S. Agriculture

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2023 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today presented the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) highest honor to 40 teams of distinguished employees who made the most significant accomplishments that support USDA’s mission, strategic goals, objectives and priorities. Vilsack also presented a Secretary’s Act of Valor Award to a team that risked injury to themselves by attempting lifesaving actions during a disaster response.

“Hard-working and dedicated employees are at the heart of the service we aim to provide agricultural producers and all Americans,” Vilsack said. “The work being honored this year includes identifying the bioenergy potential of a crop, improving the resilience of supply chains, and an act of valor attempting to rescue pilots of a helicopter downed while fighting the Moose Fire in Idaho in July 2022.”

All USDA employees, employees of other Federal agencies, and organizations collaborating with USDA to accomplish the Department's mission are eligible to be nominated for a Secretary’s Honor Awards, which are honorary and do not include monetary awards. Awards were given to teams whose work advanced USDA’s six strategic goals.

Three teams of employees were recognized for their work in helping USDA achieve its Strategic Goal 1, which is Combating Climate Change to Support America’s Working Lands, Natural Resources, and Communities:

  • 23 employees from across the Department who designed and implemented USDA’s paradigm-shifting Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities initiative. The goal of these partnerships is to expand markets for America’s climate-smart commodities, leverage the greenhouse gas benefits of climate-smart commodity production, and provide direct, meaningful benefits to production agriculture, including for small and underserved producers,
  • 44 employees who prepared USDA and its stakeholders to respond to the challenges of climate change through agency-level adaptation planning and advancing climate literacy across USDA, and
  • 17 employees who developed a 10-Year Wildfire Crisis Strategy and implemented the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act for fuels management in our nation’s forests.

Eight teams were honored for their efforts to help USDA achieve its Strategic Goal 2, which is Ensuring America’s Agricultural System is Equitable, Resilient, and Prosperous:

  • 248 employees for their service and professionalism during the national Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza response, protecting domestic poultry health, U.S. commerce and food safety,
  • 5 employees for advancing pennycress as a new commercial crop for the nation. Pennycress can be used as a cover crop or rotational crop and produces an abundance of seeds whose oil could be used in biodiesel production,
  • 67 employees who implemented the Emergency Relief Program and the Emergency Livestock Relief Program, creating a process to expedite payments to producers and easing burdens for producers and USDA employees,
  • 2 employees who served as part of a natural disaster response team in the New Orleans area that ensured grain producers had valuable export markets available during the harvest season,
  • 20 employees who launched the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production as a permanent resource to increase access of USDA programs by urban producers,
  • 206 employees who designed and implemented the Pandemic Assistance Program, enabling USDA to serve more producers,
  • 17 employees who expanded and streamlined double crop insurance opportunities in more than 1,500 counties, making it easier for U.S. farmers to grow food, increase food supply, and lower food costs for American families, and
  • 10 employees who increased the U.S. potato market into Mexico with an estimated export market of $250 million within the first five years.

Four teams were recognized for their work achieving Strategic Goal 3, which is Fostering an Equitable and Competitive Marketplace for All Agricultural Producers:

  • 6 employees who provided ingenuity toward critical supply chain resilience efforts in fiscal years 2021 and 2022,
  • 5 employees who exceeded all 8(a), socioeconomic, and small business goals in fiscal year 2021 by expanding outreach to small businesses, advancing the objectives outlined in Executive Order 13985,
  • 5 employees who launched international coalitions to improve the competitiveness of U.S. agriculture while increasing sustainability, and
  • 18 employees for implementing the Micro Farm Program, enabling USDA to better serve smaller producers who provide their communities with locally grown and healthy foods.

Six teams received honor awards for their work in support of Strategic Goal 4, which is Providing All Americans Safe, Nutritious Food:

  • 5 employees for their collaborative effort across government to draft nationwide policy guidance prohibiting discrimination and enhancing equal and equitable access to FNS programs,
  • 5 employees who developed an innovative waiver processing tool that expedited the approval of child nutrition waivers that became necessary due to the COVID pandemic,
  • 5 employees who refined and executed the 2019 Farm to School Census, which connects students in the National School Lunch Program with foods from local producers,
  • 5 employees who demonstrated excellence in food safety by giving the regulated industry six updated guidelines to help control foodborne pathogens,
  • 3 employees who provided legal advice and technical assistance in response to the infant formula recall, ensuring continued access to formula for participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, and
  • 5 employees who developed and implemented a $50 billion emergency food assistance program for low-income families with children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twelve teams were honored for their efforts to help USDA achieve its Strategic Goal 5, which is Expanding Opportunities for Economic Development and Improving the Quality of Life in Rural and Tribal Communities:

  • 5 employees who finalized the first-of-its-kind Forest Service co-stewardship agreement with five tribes of the Bears Ears Commission and the Bureau of Land Management,
  • 5 employees who established a novel demonstration project that promotes self-determination and food sovereignty in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations,
  • 5 employees who implemented and expanded the multiple food system transformation programs, focusing on fairness and resilience.
  • 5 employees who finalized the Good Neighbor Authority agreement to enhance the capacity of tribal nations and advance co-stewardship within ceded territories in the Upper Lake States,
  • 5 employees who developed a plan, created new tools, and streamlined processes to successfully administer the 2021 June Area Survey at reduced costs during the COVID-19 pandemic,
  • 5 employees who helped ensure equitable and equal access to USDA procurement opportunities,
  • 58 employees who, as members of the OneUSDA Southeast Alaska Sustainability Team, implemented $25 million of investments informed by local voices, allowing a OneUSDA approach to improving economic, cultural, and conservation conditions,
  • 5 employees who established the Rural Partners Network, creating community-based solutions in rural and Tribal communities,
  • 5 employees who coordinated the ReConnect Program’s historically significant investments and equitable access to rural broadband,
  • 3 employees of the USDA Equity Team for exceptional achievements and outstanding contributions to American agriculture,
  • 5 employees who implemented the American Rescue Plan Act’s Single Family Housing Direct home loan refinancing program, and
  • 13 employees who strengthened NRCS Watershed Program investments to make the programs accessible and equitable, which led to increased investments in underserved communities.

Seven teams were honored for achievements supporting Strategic Goal 6, which is Attracting, Inspiring, and Retaining an Engaged and Motivated Workforce that’s Proud to Represent USDA:

  • Members of the Idaho City Hotshots with the Boise National Forest, the Twin Peaks Handcrew with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands and a USDA employee for actions following the downing of a helicopter during the response to the Moose Fire in Idaho in July 2022.
  • 15 employees who developed and implemented a $50 billion emergency food assistance program for low-income children during the COVID-19 pandemic,
  • 5 employees who developed and implemented innovative approaches to the planning and award of the Enterprise Business Services software contract enabling the continued productivity of all USDA employees,
  • 8 employees who led the FPAC Incident Management Team to create policies, procedures and data tools to provide a safer working environment for employees and customers nationwide,
  • 5 employees who demonstrated teamwork, dedication and focus to hire more than 400 people in an expedited timeframe to bring FNS staffing to levels not achieved in more than 30 years,
  • 7 employees who increased the closure rate of U.S. Government Accountability Office audits from last fiscal year thereby improving financial and operational efficiency, and
  • 5 employees who completed a project to modernize the George Washington Carver Center to replace aging systems to comply with contemporary codes and increase space utilization.

The Secretary Honor Awards were presented Thursday in USDA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean-energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit


USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.