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U.S. Department of Agriculture Announces Senior Staff Appointments

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16, 2024 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced the names of individuals who will hold senior staff positions in Washington, D.C.

Kumar Chandran, Acting Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services

Kumar Chandran has been designated Acting Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services (FNCS). Kumar has been critical to the Biden-Harris Administration’s health and nutrition initiatives since day one, serving first on the Biden-Harris Transition as part of the USDA Agency Review team and then as a Senior Advisor for Nutrition Policy in the Office of the Secretary since the start of the Administration. Kumar has extensive experience in nutrition advocacy and public service, including most recently leading the policy work of the national non-profit FoodCorps. He was also Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services during the Obama Administration, and he has worked to fight hunger and improve nutrition through roles at Share Our Strength and California Food Policy Advocates (now Nourish California).

By taking on this leadership role, Kumar will be able to apply his extensive experience from multiple organizations to help carry forward the Biden-Harris Administration’s vision for reducing hunger, improving nutrition, and giving all Americans, regardless of zip code or socio-economic status, the best chance at a good life.

As Acting Under Secretary, Kumar will serve with Stacy Dean, Deputy Under Secretary for FNCS. President Biden twice nominated Stacy Dean as Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Sciences, and, unfortunately, the Senate twice returned her nomination. Stacy has served as Deputy Under Secretary for FNCS since January 2021 and her tremendous leadership, vision, and wisdom have been—and remain—essential to securing transformational improvements to USDA’s food and nutrition programs.

Justo Robles, Deputy Chief of Staff in the Office of the Secretary

Justo Robles is rejoining USDA, after serving as Director of Intergovernmental Relations at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) since July 2022. Robles previously was the White House Liaison for USDA, starting at the beginning of the Biden-Harris Administration, and was instrumental in building a talented team of USDA leaders who reflect the diversity of the nation and many of whom have personal experience with the programs USDA delivers. Prior to joining USDA, Robles served as Georgia Deputy Coalitions Director, focused on Latinx and Labor, for Biden for President. Previously, he was Deputy Director and Chief of Staff for Energy Independence Now, a national nonprofit advocating for clean energy. In the Obama Administration, Robles served at the Department of Defense in various capacities including in the Immediate Office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

He will work in partnership with Deputy Chief of Staff Anne Knapke who continues in the role she has held since December 2021.

Russellie Bongolan, Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary

Russellie Bongolan will serve as Chief of Staff to Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Xochitl Torres Small, leading a team that is focused on supporting USDA’s internal operations, recruiting the next generation of USDA leaders, and ensuring efficient and impactful delivery of USDA programs to communities who need them most. Russellie most recently served as White House Liaison for USDA. She first joined the department in November 2021, when she was appointed as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Research Education and Economics Mission Area. There she worked to promote key USDA priorities, including promoting equity, driving program modernization and addressing climate change. Prior to her appointment, she served as Political Director for Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and as Georgia Deputy Director of Coalitions, focused on AANHPI, Seniors & Women, for Biden for President. Additionally, Bongolan has over 10 years in the public and private sector working on veterans’ health administration and education technology. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science & International Studies from University of California, Irvine and a Master of Science of Social Work from Columbia University.

Alberto A. Gonzalez, Jr., Senior Policy Advisor, Food and Nutrition Service

In his new role, Alberto A. Gonzalez, Jr. will function as a Chief Policy Advisor. He most recently served as Senior Advisor focused on External Engagement within the agency. Previously he worked as a Senior Project Manager for Health Policy at UnidosUS, where he worked on health and nutrition policy related to federal government programs. Prior to joining UnidosUS in 2018, he was a Senior State Advocacy Manager at Community Catalyst in Boston. At UnidosUS, he led the Health Equity and Accountability Act Working Group, and while at Community Catalyst he served on the steering committee for the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign. Gonzalez has also held roles at the California Immigrant Policy Center and the California State Assembly. Gonzales has a Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley.


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