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U.S. Department of Agriculture announces key staff appointments


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

Mary Beth Schultz will serve as Deputy General Counsel

Before joining USDA, Schultz worked as the Democratic Chief Counsel for the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, which she joined in 2017. She held the same role for the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs from 2004 to 2017. Schultz served as a trial attorney from 1998 to 2004 in the Department of Justice’s Office of Consumer Litigation. She also worked for the Southern Poverty Law Center and the office of the Honorable John R. Gibson of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Schultz graduated from Harvard Law School, where she served as the General Editor for the Harvard Women’s Law Journal. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Speech Communication from the University of Nebraska.

Dr. Dionne Toombs will serve as Acting Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)

With over a decade of USDA service, Dr. Toombs has significantly contributed to USDA’s agricultural research, education, and Extension services while serving in various leadership roles. Most recently, she was Director of the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS). She served as the head of the Division of Nutrition at NIFA and as the National Program Leader (NPL) for the Agriculture Food and Research Initiative. Prior to serving as NPL, Dr. Toombs was a Program Specialist for Food Science and Nutrition at the former USDA Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service, now NIFA. She started at USDA as a student intern at USDA’s Agriculture Research Service. Dr. Toombs earned her Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences from Howard University, her Master of Science degree in Food Science from Alabama A & M University, and her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Bethune-Cookman University.

Ny Whitaker will serve as Director of Scheduling and Advance in the Office of the Secretary

Whitaker has been the senior advisor for New York state for the Democratic National Committee since September 2020. Previously, she worked as the Women’s Vote Director for the New York Democratic Party and the Executive Director of Emerge New York. In 1999, Whitaker founded her own consulting firm and served as president until 2017. She has also worked as the Director of Special Events at New York University (NYU). In 2006, Whitaker became adjunct faculty at NYU, where she developed the curriculum on advertising, events, marketing, communications and sponsorships. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Leslie Weldon will serve as Acting Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer in the Office of the Secretary

As acting CDIO, Weldon will lead USDA’s ongoing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) efforts, building on USDA’s commitment to civil rights and making USDA the best place to work for all employees. As CDIO, she will create strong integration across the overall equity work to ensure long-term, enduring results for USDA’s mission delivery and public service. Previously, she served as the Chief Executive for the Work Environment and Performance (WEPO) and Deputy Chief for the National Forest System mission areas for the Forest Service. Weldon has a four-decade career in natural resource management and has served in leadership and policy positions within the Forest Service and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biological Sciences from Virginia Tech.

Deborah Swerdlow will serve as Chief of Staff for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services

Swerdlow comes to USDA from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where she most recently served as Deputy Director of State Campaigns, leading advocacy efforts for federal policies that support people with low incomes and their families, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and Child Tax Credit (CTC). Previously, she held roles at the American Association of University Women and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Swerdlow holds a Master’s in Public Administration from The George Washington University and bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Middle Eastern studies from the University of Florida.

Alberto Gonzalez will serve as Senior Advisor for External Engagement for the Food and Nutrition Service

Most recently, Gonzalez worked as a Senior Strategist 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 worked as a Senior State Advocacy Manager at Community Catalyst in Boston, MA. Gonzalez also held roles at the California Immigrant Policy Center and the California State Assembly. He led the Health Equity and Accountability Act Working Group and served on the steering committee for the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign. Gonzales has a Master of Public Policy in American Politics and Institutions from the Harvard Kennedy School and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and American Studies from the University of California, Berkley.

Alison Hard will serve as Senior Policy Advisor for the Food and Nutrition Service

Hard most recently worked on the US House Committee on Education and Labor as professional staff for Chairman Robert Scott. Prior, she worked at the National WIC Association as their Federal Government Affairs Manager and Senior Associate for Federal Government Affairs. Additionally, Hard served in the offices of Senator Kristen Gillibrand and the Mayor of New York City. She has a Master of Science in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University. Hard is a registered dietitian and nutritionist.

Jerry Chapin will serve as Senior Counselor in the Office of the General Counsel

Chapin comes to USDA after more than three years as Associate Director of the Office of Federal and Regional Affairs in the Executive Office of the Mayor of Washington, DC. Prior, he worked in the same office as a Ward 2 Liaison. Chapin also worked in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Boston, MA and Olsson, Frank, Weeda, Terman & Matz P.C. in Washington, DC. He graduated from Suffolk University Law School in May 2016 with a Juris Doctor and from Roanoke College in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Chapin is a member of the DC and Massachusetts Bar Associations.

“Here at USDA, we continue to build a team that is reflective of America – diverse and rich in background, expertise and leadership,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Mary Beth, Dionne, Ny, Leslie, Deborah, Alberto, Alison and Jerry are all welcomed additions to the team.”