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Arkansan's USDA nomination heads to full Senate

by Frank E. Lockwood | June 11, 2021 at 1:48 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- The nomination of Fayetteville agriculture law expert Janie Simms Hipp as general counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture received the backing Thursday of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

During a brief business meeting, committee members voted to forward Hipp's nomination to the full Senate for approval. President Joe Biden's nominee had the backing of committee chairwoman U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., as well as the committee's top Republican, U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas.

"Ms. Hipp's vast array of agricultural law experience will serve the department well. I am pleased that the Committee came together to advance her nomination in a timely manner," Boozman said in a written statement. "Today's action puts us one step closer to filling this important role at USDA."

Thursday's vote was held in the President's Room of the U.S. Capitol, a site used on rare occasions for presidential bill signings.

Hipp's confirmation hearing occurred on May 27. In line with recent covid-19 practices, she appeared virtually.

A native of southeastern Oklahoma, Hipp is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and chief executive officer of the Native American Agriculture Fund. During the Obama administration, she served as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's senior adviser for tribal relations and as director of the Office of Tribal Relations.

If confirmed, she would be the first American Indian woman to serve in that capacity, she told lawmakers.

A graduate of the University of Arkansas School of Law, Hipp earned a master's in agriculture law in 1996.

She subsequently served in a number of capacities in Fayetteville, including as founding director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas and as an assistant professor of agricultural law.

In her new post, she would serve as the USDA'S chief law officer and would oversee an agency with more than 200 attorneys in Washington and across the country. Tapped by Biden to again serve as agriculture secretary, Vilsack applauded her nomination when it was announced.

"If confirmed, Janie will join a senior leadership team committed to ensuring the fair and equitable implementation of all USDA programs in service to the American people. Her skills and knowledge will contribute to removing barriers to access wherever they exist, building a fairer and more just food system, and helping to build a stronger, more resilient rural America," he said.

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