Deputy Secretary for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and LBJ School of Public Affairs alumna Kathleen A. Merrigan will deliver the convocation address on Saturday, May 21, to the graduating class of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.
Since the U.S. Senate confirmed her in 2009, Merrigan has been working alongside Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, overseeing the day-to-day operation of USDA's many programs and spearheading the USDA budget process. She manages USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which emphasizes the need for a fundamental and critical reconnection between producers and consumers while revitalizing rural economies by supporting local and regional food systems in rural America. Merrigan also serves on the President's Management Council, working with other Cabinet deputies to improve accountability and performance across the federal government.
She made history in 2009 as the first woman to chair the Ministerial Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Time magazine also recognized the history and scope of her work in 2010 by naming her among the "100 Most Influential People in the World."
"I am delighted that Deputy Secretary Merrigan (Kathleen) has accepted our invitation to deliver this year's convocation address," said Robert Hutchings, dean of the LBJ School. "As we continue to celebrate the School's 40th anniversary and the connection of public service across the generations of our LBJ School community, it is particularly fitting that Kathleen, a distinguished graduate of the LBJ School and an exemplar of what we hope our graduates will become, will play such a pivotal role in this significant milestone for the class of 2011."
Prior to joining the Obama Administration, Merrigan was an assistant professor and director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. In 2008 she was an expert consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome.
Former President Bill Clinton appointed Merrigan to serve as administrator of USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service from 1999-2001. From 1994-99 she worked as a senior analyst for the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes research and education in sustainable agriculture. She was a senior staff member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry from 1987-92, where she worked as the chief science and technology adviser to then Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). During that time she helped develop the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. She worked on pesticide issues as a special assistant to the chief of regulatory affairs for the Texas Department of Agriculture from 1986-87.
Merrigan served on USDA's National Organic Standards Board from 1995-99 and on the department's Facilities Reform Commission from 1997-99.
Merrigan holds a doctor's degree in environmental planning and policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Master of Public Affairs degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor's degree from Williams College.