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Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on USDA Nominees Chavonda Jacobs-Young and Margo Schlanger

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today released the following opening statement at the hearing to consider the nominations of Chavonda J. Jacobs-Young to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education, and Economics, and Margo Schlanger to be an Assistant Secretary of Agriculture. Live video of the hearing is available here.

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

I call this hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to order. We are here to consider the nominations of Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young for Under Secretary of Research, Education and Economics, and Margo Schlanger for Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The roles they have been nominated to fill are fundamental to supporting farmers and ranchers and fostering trust in the Department.

American farmers and ranchers have had a competitive advantage on the world stage thanks, in no small part, to the quality of our agricultural research sector. In fact, every dollar invested in agricultural research returns over $17 to our economy.

If confirmed as Under Secretary of Research, Education and Economics, Dr. Jacobs-Young would oversee USDA’s major research agencies including the Office of the Chief Scientist, the Agricultural Research Service, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the Economic Research Service and the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Whether it’s Michigan State University finding ways to increase cherry yields or the University of Arkansas optimizing water use in rice production, agricultural research, education, and extension is fundamental to ensuring an abundant food supply and building resiliency in the agriculture system.

The need for research doesn’t stop there. Farmers rely on USDA economics and statistics for insights into markets, costs and trade to make informed decisions about their business operations. And Congressional and USDA leaders use data to better support farmers and ranchers who grow different products in different parts of the country. Sadly, over the past few years, USDA’s research agencies have had high employee vacancy rates and struggled to find the researchers they need with scientific expertise in agriculture sciences.

If confirmed, Dr. Jacobs-Young will need to rebuild a diverse workforce and talent pool. As a longtime leader at the USDA, Dr. Jacobs-Young is perfectly situated for this role of leading Research, Education, and Economics. She is well respected by her peers, the academic community, and the agricultural industry.

Just as there is work to be done within USDA’s Research programs, there is much to be done within the Office of Civil Rights as well. It is no secret that the USDA has had a troubled history when it comes to civil rights. As the arbiter of equal opportunity across the Department, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights plays a critical role in making good on Secretary Vilsack’s promise to build a culture of inclusion for USDA staff and the public USDA serves.

For farmers and communities historically left out of USDA’s work, improving equity, accountability, and access in USDA employment and USDA programs will be a game changer. Diversity broadens our horizons of what’s possible and more participants contributing to our farm economy builds our economic strength. If confirmed as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Ms. Schlanger is well suited to lead these efforts.

She is a leading authority on civil rights issues and she is a strong advocate for protecting the civil rights of employees and customers within federal agencies. She also has experience as a top civil rights official in the Obama Administration and practical experience implementing civil rights protections.

Thank you to Dr. Jacobs-Young and Ms. Schlanger for joining us today. I look forward to hearing your visions for the Department in your respective mission areas if confirmed. I would note that you have both received letters of support from multiple organizations, and I ask unanimous consent that those letters be entered into the record. So ordered. With that, I’ll turn to my colleague and Ranking Member Senator Boozman for any opening comments he’d like to make.