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News Release

Release No. 0338.09
Office of Communications (202) 720-4623

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WASHINGTON, July 24, 2009 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today named seven additional people to hold staff positions in various agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"I'm delighted to have staff with the breadth and quality of experience that these new people will bring to address the challenges we face at USDA," Vilsack said. "I look forward to having their help as President Obama and I work to strengthen communities throughout our country, improve the environment, and ensure that our food supply remains safe, sustainable and nutritious."


Dr. Adela R. Ramos – Senior Advisor. Ramos most recently worked for Senator Tom Harkin on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, where her portfolio included food safety, agricultural research, animal and plant health, and biotechnology issues. From 2004 to 2005, she served on Senator Harkin's agriculture committee staff as a congressional science fellow sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A native of Florida, Ramos has a doctorate in microbiology from Cornell University, where she studied plant-microbe interactions, and a B.S. in biology from Duke University.


Joe Barbiero – Confidential Assistant. Barbiero most recently performed research for domestic agencies for the Obama Administration. He joined the Obama Campaign in Des Moines, Iowa in September 2007 and worked in the Field Department throughout 2008 campaigning in Nevada, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Originally from Milford, Conn., Barbiero spent most of the past 6 years in Philadelphia. He is a graduate of Temple University where he studied Political Science.

Jason Weller – Chef of Staff. Prior to USDA, Weller worked for the Agriculture Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that crafts bills to fund USDA's programs and activities. He also served the House Budget Committee where he helped to construct the annual congressional budget for agriculture, environment, and energy programs. Finally, he worked for five years with the White House's Office of Management and Budget where he assisted with the development and implementation of the budget for USDA's conservation programs. Prior to Washington, DC, Weller worked for several years with the California State Legislature where he provided fiscal and policy recommendations on a variety of natural resource conservation and environmental protection issues. A native of northern California, Weller attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., where he earned a degree in international relations. He also earned a graduate degree in public policy from the University of Michigan. He and his wife have two young daughters and live in Maryland.


Sara Eckhouse – Confidential Assistant. Eckhouse most recently worked as a Field Organizer in the 2008 Obama Campaign. She joined the campaign in May 2008 and organized in both Iowa and Ohio. Prior to the campaign, Eckhouse worked at horse stables in Newmarket, England, and Jonstorp, Sweden. A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Eckhouse graduated from Harvard with a B.A. in biological anthropology.


Yeshimebet Abebe – Special Assistant, Rural Utilities. An Iowa native, Abebe most recently worked with Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa. She has practiced law in both the private and non-profit sector. She worked on the Obama Campaign in Indiana during the General Election and volunteered in Iowa. Abebe received her B.S. in Urban Regional Studies from Cornell University, and she earned her Juris Doctor from the University of Miami School of Law, where she served as Articles and Comments Editor of the University of Miami International and Comparative Law Review. She subsequently earned her M.A. degree in International Law and the Settlement of Disputes from the United Nations Mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica and a Certificate in International Humanitarian Law from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

John Padalino – Special Assistant, Rural Utilities. Padalino has extensive experience working in water and wastewater utilities following graduation from the University of Texas. He has certifications from the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission to operate groundwater production plants and wastewater treatment facilities. Padalino earned his law degree from Rutgers where he interned with the Honorable Joseph E. Irenas, United States District Court Judge for the District of New Jersey and served as Lead State Constitutional Law Editor of the Rutgers Law Review. He also received a fellowship in the Marshall-Brennan Fellowship Program teaching constitutional law to high school students in Camden, N.J. He focused his law practice on environmental and administrative law, appellate and commercial litigation and served as general counsel to water districts in Texas. John has been a member of the Law Focused Education Committee for the State Bar of Texas and currently serves as Chair of the committee.

Lisa Zaina – Chief of Staff, Rural Utilities. Most recently Zaina served as assistant vice president-state regulatory affairs at CTIA – The Wireless Association®. She served as the executive director of the Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance. Previously, she served as CEO of the Universal Service Administrative Company. She was vice president for Industry and Regulatory Affairs and corporate secretary for Shenandoah Telecommunications in Edinburg, Va. She has also served as senior counsel and associate bureau chief and the deputy bureau chief for the FCC's former Common Carrier Bureau (now the Wireline Competition Bureau) and as vice president and general counsel for the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies. Zaina is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., and Wake Forest University School of Law in Winston-Salem, N.C.