Dionne Toombs, Director for the Office of the Chief Scientist
Dr. Dionne Toombs is the Director for the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS). In this role, she provides leadership on a wide range of issues affecting science programs and science policy in agricultural research, education, and economics. She comes to OCS from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) where she was Director of the Division of Nutrition, leading a collaboration of nutrition science leaders across the Department. Under her leadership, the Division provided direction in science policy and program development to ensure the safety of America’s food supply and the availability of healthy food to its citizens.
She served as National Program Leader for NIFA’s Agriculture Food and Research Initiative (AFRI), leading large competitive grant programs to fund research into nutrition, food science and technology, and food safety.
Dr. Toombs received her Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences from Howard University. She earned her Master of Science degree from Alabama A & M University and her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Bethune-Cookman University.
Richard Derksen, Deputy Director of the Office of the Chief Scientist
Richard (Rich) Derksen is the Deputy Director of the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS). In this role, he provides direction and leadership on a wide range of issues affecting programs in agricultural research, education, and economics. Derksen manages review and product activity, tracks metrics, output, and impacts, and represents OCS on various Federal working groups and committees.
Derksen has over 25 years of direct research experience. He is an internationally recognized expert in crop production and protection engineering. At Cornell University, he held a joint research and extension appointment related to crop protection. In 1996, Derksen joined the Agricultural Research Service as a research scientist with a focus on providing engineering solutions to crop production and protection issues. He has authored over 200 publications, including 78 peer-reviewed journal manuscripts and given numerous invited presentations at national and international scientific meetings. Derksen received his Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Illinois.
Advisors and Staff
Jaime Adams, Senior Advisor for International Affairs
Jaime Adams joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in 2011 as the Senior Advisor for International Affairs. In this capacity, Ms. Adams engages in cross-functional international agricultural science and technology collaboration with all levels of staff and leadership from government and non-governmental organizations. Ms. Adams' portfolio includes management of a multi-million dollar project and management and negotiation of numerous international bilateral and multilateral agricultural science and technology relationships. Ms. Adams manages the U.S. Government (USG) participation in the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) initiative. Ms. Adams has worked on international agricultural issues for over 10 years, having traveled extensively including serving in Afghanistan for over a year, and has supported high-level USG leadership including members of Congress, U.S. Ambassadors, and U.S. Cabinet officials. Ms. Adams earned a Master of Science degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her Bachelor of Science degree in International, Resource, and Consumer Economics was also from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Neena Anandaraman, Veterinary Science Policy Advisor
Dr. Neena Anandaraman joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in 2014 as the Senior Advisor for Animal Health Production and Products. In this role, she coordinates scientific collaboration and planning on high priority emerging animal health agricultural issues. Her focus is on zoonotic infectious diseases - those that can be transmitted between humans and animals -- including antimicrobial resistance and biosecurity. Her work provides science-based advice to senior leadership to help inform their policy decisions.
Dr. Anandaraman served as Team Lead for the Prevention and Control Team in the Applied Epidemiology Staff in the Office of Public Health Science (OPHS) at the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). She is a veterinary epidemiologist and has been evaluating zoonoses issues for OPHS since 2001, focusing on foodborne conditions, especially Salmonella and antimicrobial resistance for their impacts on pre-harvest and post-harvest food safety. She served as a Supervisory Veterinary Medical Officer in the Office of Field Operations of FSIS in Arkansas before joining OPHS.
Prior to joining USDA, Dr. Anandaraman worked at a mixed animal veterinary practice in Texas. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Texas A&M University, and her Master of Public Health from Tulane University. Dr. Anandaraman is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.
Rena Bannister, Administrative Assistant
Ms. Rena Bannister joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in January 2015 as the primary Administrative Assistant. Ms. Bannister advises the Director and team of Senior Advisors of complex administrative processes and provides support in business greetings, executive correspondence, budget matters, procurement, personnel, data processing, travel, time keeping, program record-keeping, and report production. She is an expert on the policies and procedures for the development of issuances and other reports that are important across the Department. Ms. Bannister takes pride in serving as the first point of contact for callers to the Office, who may include Members of Congress, members of Congressional committee staff, White House officials, USDA executives and staff, high level executives from other Federal Departments and agencies, leaders of special interest groups, and members of the public. Ms. Bannister has received numerous awards for her administrative work since her first position in government service in 1984. She attended the University of Maryland University College from 1998-2004 and is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Technical Management from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Ms. Bannister is passionate about working with others, creating a collegial atmosphere at work, and performing office operations at a high level.
Sarah Federman, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow
Dr. Sarah Federman joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in 2017 as the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow. In this role, she works with USDA representatives to the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) of the White House, coordinates Department activities related to plant health and production, and supports USDA’s role in the GEO Global Agricultural Monitoring program (GEOGLAM).
Dr. Federman has a strong interest in developing solutions to issues at the intersection of human development and the environment. She designed and conducted original research in evolutionary biology, forged international multilateral collaborations, and managed field teams in Madagascar. Her areas of technical expertise include: forest ecology and evolution, statistical coding, big data, geographic information systems, phylogenetics, and genomics.
With a passion for public service and inclusiveness in academia, she was involved in both Yale University’s Diversity Fellows Program and the Graduate and Professional Student Title IX Board. She actively engages in science outreach and education, working with diverse audiences through mentorship, publications, and presentations. As a consultant for the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, Sarah developed educational materials for online courses on plant biology. She has consulted on combating illicit wildlife trafficking and managing the use of chemical pesticide.
Dr. Federman received her Ph.D. from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University. Her research in the evolution of tropical biodiversity and the impact of extinctions on ecosystems over time was supported by a Graduate Research Fellowship of the National Science Foundation.
Laura Schreeg, Advisor for International Affairs
Dr. Schreeg joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in July 2019. She comes to OCS from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Food Security, where she served as a technical advisor and program manager for the implementation of the Global Food Security Strategy (GFSS). Laura worked with field programs, donors, and the private sector to sustainably increase income for small farms. Her work helped to improve nutrition and strengthen food security in developing countries. She coordinated the development of the GFSS technical guidance series and worked with stakeholders to advance evidence-based policy. Her work focused on Africa and expanded the impact of research investments and increased beneficial technologies available to producers, processors and others in agriculture.
Dr. Schreeg was awarded a prestigious Science and Technology Policy Fellowship by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She was a postdoctoral research assistant at Brown University and the Marine Biological Laboratory. She received her PhD in Interdisciplinary Ecology from the University of Florida, with a concentration in Soil and Water Science. Her dissertation research was conducted in Panama with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Andes of Ecuador after she earned a Master’s degree from Michigan State University and a Bachelor’s degree from Saint Mary's College. She grew up in Indiana.
William C. Trenkle, Departmental Scientific Integrity Officer (DSIO) / Research Integrity Officer
Dr. William Trenkle joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in January 2018 as the Senior Advisor on Scientific Integrity and Departmental Scientific Integrity Officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In this role, he will help to develop Department-wide policies on scientific integrity, administer USDA’s scientific integrity program, and provide oversight of responses to resolve scientific integrity concerns. He also serves as the principal advisor to the Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics on scientific integrity matters.
Dr. Trenkle comes to OCS from the Division of Investigative Oversight (DIO), Office of Research Integrity (ORI), HHS, where he was the Acting Division Director for DIO and had previously served as the Acting Division Director the Division of Education and Integrity (DEI), ORI. Prior to ORI, he served as the Director of the Chemical Biology Core Facility in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), NIH, as a Program Director with the Division of Pharmacology, Physiology and Biological Chemistry in the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), NIH, and was on the Chemistry faculty at Brown University. Dr. Trenkle has expertise in the forensic analysis of scientific imagery and was appointed to the NIST Organization for Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) for Forensic Science as an inaugural member and Vice-Chair of the Video/Imaging Technology and Analysis (VITAL) Subcommittee. The VITAL Subcommittee is working on the development of national standards and guidelines related to the forensic application of technologies and systems to capture, store, process, analyze, transmit, produce and archive images.
Dr. Trenkle was an NIH National Research Service Award (NRSA) postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine and his Bachelor of Science degree from Alma College.
Paul Zankowski, Senior Advisor for Plant Health & Production and Plant Products
Dr. Paul Zankowski joins OCS on Oct 1, 2017, as incoming Sr. Advisor for PHPPP, bringing over 30 years of experience in plant sciences from basic to applied. He joins OCS on detail from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service/Plant Variety Protection Office (AMS/PVPO), where he has served as PVPO Commissioner since 2001. As PVPO Commissioner, Dr. Zankowski worked with public- and private-sector U.S. and international plant breeders to protect their new innovative varieties through the U.S. PVP system. He has collaborated with entities including the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), Seed Association of the Americas (SAA), Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), USDA ARS Office of Technology Transfer, Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA ),and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), as well as other country’s PVP offices, on plant breeder’s rights issues. Most recently, he has been actively involved in a joint working group comprised of scientists from ASTA and the PVP Advisory board, on developing an effective molecular marker protocol for distinguishing plant varieties, as a distinction basis that can be internationally accepted.
Prior to joining the USDA, Dr. Zankowski held the positions of Director of Biotechnology, Vice President of Research, Biotechnology Manager, Associate Director of Science & Technology, and Cell Biologist, for Harris Moran Seed Company in San Juan Bautista, California, working on improving fruit and vegetable varieties since 1988.
Paul conducted post-doctoral research in plant biotechnology at Advanced Genetic Sciences (Oakland, CA) in 1987 and the ARCO Plant Cell Research Institute (Dublin, CA) in 1986, and received Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Plant Physiology from the University of California, Davis and a B.S. in Biology from Penn State University.