Opening Statement of Ranking Member John Boozman at Hearing to Consider the Nomination of Dr. Jewel Bronaugh to be Deputy Secretary of Agriculture

WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following opening remarks, as prepared, from the hearing to consider the nomination of Dr. Jewel Bronaugh to be deputy secretary of agriculture:

Good morning. I am pleased to welcome Dr. Jewel Bronaugh to the Committee this morning as we consider her nomination to be deputy secretary of agriculture.

Secretary Vilsack was confirmed a few weeks ago and we appreciate his eagerness to get a full team in place so the department can continue to work on behalf of the nation’s farmers, ranchers, and other rural stakeholders.  I look forward to hearing from Secretary Vilsack in the next few days on the status of the work he has been doing since getting reacquainted with his old job.

Last week, the administration announced the nomination of Robert Bonnie to serve as the undersecretary for farm production and conservation, which oversees FSA, NRCS, and RMA. That nomination is in addition to a prior announcement of Janie Simms Hipp to serve as USDA’s general counsel.

We look forward to vetting both of these nominees as we work to get Secretary Vilsack’s team officially on board.

The deputy secretary of agriculture is the second-highest-ranking official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. More importantly, she becomes the acting secretary if the secretary is unable to perform the duties of the office. 

The position coordinates day-to-day operations within the department and efforts across agencies. The deputy secretary is tasked with implementing the departmental mission. The deputy secretary receives input from outside the agency and stays up-to-date on issues and trends in the agriculture arena.

Dr. Bronaugh certainly has shown she has the experience to handle these significant responsibilities at the department.

Throughout Dr. Bronough’s career, she has shown to be a true leader in agriculture by serving her country and the state of Virginia in government and educational roles. 

Her experience includes her service as the Virginia state executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), where she was appointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in July 2015.

In her role with FSA, she provided oversight for critical production stabilization, price support, compliance, farm loan, conservation, environmental and emergency assistance programs in Virginia. She was responsible for the supervision of 41 field offices and the state FSA office, comprising 186 employees.

Dr. Bronaugh was the first African American female in the nation to serve in this capacity. And (as mentioned) she is the first woman of color to be nominated for USDA deputy secretary.

She has championed causes in her career such as developing and delivering programs addressing issues of bullying among youth while she was the associate administrator of cooperative extension and a 4-H youth development specialist. And in the spring of 2019, she launched the Farmer Stress Task Force, organized in partnership with agricultural and health related agencies and organizations, to raise awareness and coordinate resources to address farmer stress and mental health challenges in Virginia.

She has won praise and support from many in the agriculture community, including: American Farm Bureau, National Farmers’ Union, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Cotton Council, North American Meat Institute and USA Rice.

As everyone in this room knows, agriculture is more prone to regional concerns as opposed to partisan battles. So, I am pleased to see that in Dr. Bronaugh’s current job she serves as the treasurer of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture, part of National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), which displays her appreciation and understanding of southern agriculture.

As I have stated before, I’m a strong believer that past performance is indicative of future performance, so I believe Dr. Bronaugh is bound for success at the department.

If confirmed, I am confident that Dr. Bronaugh and her staff will continue to work in a bipartisan fashion with Congress on behalf of our farmers, ranchers and those the department serves.

USDA and Congress have a very special relationship, one that is traditionally very collegial and informative. I am hopeful that relationship will grow stronger in the coming days and months under the guidance of Dr. Bronaugh, and that she will endeavor to work with Congress in a transparent bipartisan manner as we all serve the agriculture constituency.

Despite seeing light at the end of the tunnel, there are many challenges to getting rural America back to a full recovery. And open and transparent lines of communication between USDA and Congress are an important part of doing the work to reach that goal.

I continue to monitor the status of COVID relief as it is imperative that the CFAP assistance gets to those most in need. I was troubled when the Biden administration announced a 60 day review of some of this assistance, while advocating for an additional $1.9 trillion then passing it on a partisan basis without the benefit of input from all in Congress.

However, I am pleased to see that some relief has begun to flow to those who need it. Accordingly, I encourage you, Dr. Bronaugh to work to deliver assistance as expeditiously as possible to those who continue to struggle with this pandemic.

I also remain concerned about a number of issues in agriculture today, including how the administration works with our producers on issues involving the environment and climate. In recent years, production agriculture has taken many strides to be more efficient and environmentally friendly. So, we need USDA, and other federal agencies, to acknowledge that work and see agriculture as part of the solution, not part of the problem.

It is important that USDA and this Committee keep farmers and producers at the forefront of any discussion on climate change. Heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all regulations simply do not work. Climate policy that is advanced by this administration, or by others in Congress, must be addressed in a bipartisan fashion with a focus to truly benefit all farmers across the country without mandating specific farming practices.

Responding to the demands for immediate urgent legislative action on issues that affect our farmers, ranchers and producers is important, and it is our job. As Congress considers additional climate policies, I urge my colleagues that we should address such legislation in a diligent, collaborative and bipartisan manner. Because while bipartisan consensus takes time, it yields greater buy-in, and hopefully, better results. 

Dr. Bronaugh, I look forward to hearing from you today, and working with you, if confirmed.

I now yield back to Chairwoman Stabenow.