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U.S. Department of Agriculture Announces Key Staff Appointments

WASHINGTON, June 7, 2023 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced the names of individuals who will hold senior staff positions in Washington, D.C.

Rudy Soto has been appointed Acting Director of External and Intergovernmental Affairs

Rudy Soto has served as USDA’s Rural Development State Director for Idaho since January 2021. In this role, Soto has been instrumental in promoting economic development, increasing access to healthcare, and improving infrastructure in Idaho’s rural communities. Before that, Soto served as a legislative staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives, covering energy, environment, agriculture, and tribal affairs. Previously, he worked for Western Leaders Network, a nonprofit organization of local and tribal elected officials across the Interior West focused on protecting public lands, water, and air. Soto was born and raised in Nampa, Idaho, and is a proud member of the Shoshone Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation and a veteran of the United States Army National Guard. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Portland State University.

Tom O’Halleran has been appointed Senior Advisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service

Previously, O’Halleran served as the U.S. House Representative for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District from 2017 to 2023. He served on the House Committees on Agriculture from 2017-2022 and Energy and Commerce from 2019-2022. During his time in Congress, O’Halleran developed water policies for Arizona and other Western states and supported legislation that invested in education, veteran services, tribal communities, and health care. Before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, he served in the Arizona Senate, representing the 1st Legislative District from 2007 to 2009. In this role, he served as Chair of the Higher Education Committee and was Vice Chairman of the Health Committee. O’Halleran also served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2001 to 2007. From 1966 to 1975, he served with the Chicago Police Department, then became a member of the Chicago Board of Trade, serving two terms on its board of directors. O’Halleran was born and raised in Chicago, IL.

Cindy Axne has been appointed Senior Advisor for Rural Engagement, Delivery and Prosperity

Before joining USDA, Axne served as the U.S. House Representative for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District from 2019 to 2023. She served on the House Committees on Agriculture and Financial Services and Co-Chaired the Congressional Rural Caucus. During her time in Congress, Axne supported legislation that helped Iowa’s local producers and farmers and joined the Rural Broadband Task Force to ensure Iowans could access high-speed internet. Her legislation, the Sergeant Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act, was signed into law in 2021, expanding access to care for rural veterans. Before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, she served as Principal at Axne Consulting Group. Prior, Axne held multiple senior-level positions for the State of Iowa in the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Management, and Department of Administrative Services. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Iowa and a Master of Business Administration from Northwestern University – Kellogg School of Management.

Carlton Bridgeforth has been appointed Senior Advisor for Research, Education, and Economics

Before joining USDA, Bridgeforth worked for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture starting in March 2018. In this role, he advised Chairman David Scott (D-GA), House Agriculture Committee members, and staff on issues pertaining to the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee and the Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit Subcommittee. Bridgeforth is a Partner at Bridgeforth Farms, where he worked full-time from 2012-2018; in this role, he managed commodity contract pricing, crop input costs and inventory, supply chain logistics, and business development. Concurrently, he was appointed to the United Sorghum Checkoff Program and the Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade. Before returning to the farm in 2012, Bridgeforth worked in New York at Bank of America and Deutsche Bank. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College.

Yvonne Hsu has been appointed Chief of Staff for Rural Housing Service

Before joining USDA, Hsu was the Chief Policy and Government Affairs Officer for the National Asian-Pacific American Women’s Forum. In this role, she was responsible for the development and implementation of the organization’s advocacy strategy to build power for Asian American and Pacific Islander women and girls. She has previously worked for the National Council of State Housing Agencies, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Obama Administration, and for Representatives Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA). Hsu is a 1.5-generation immigrant with fifteen years of housing policy, nonprofit, and government experience. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and History from the University of California, Riverside.

Greg Jaffe has been appointed Senior Advisor for Regulatory Affairs

Most recently, Jaffe worked for several months as Co-Director of the Breakthrough Institute’s Washington, D.C. office on food and agriculture policy. Before that, Jaffe worked for many years managing the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) Biotechnology Project, which addressed the scientific issues, government policies, and corporate practices surrounding biotechnology innovations in food and agriculture. While at CSPI, Jaffe worked extensively with USDA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including as a member of USDA’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture and FDA’s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee. Previously, Jaffe worked for seven years as a Trial Attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and four years as Senior Counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Air Enforcement Division. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and Government from Wesleyan University and a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School.

Promotions

In the Office of Communications, Marissa Perry has been promoted from Press Secretary to Deputy Communications Director, and Allan Rodriguez has been promoted from Deputy Press Secretary to Press Secretary. Both Perry and Rodriguez have supported USDA’s Office of Communications since 2021.

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