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Obama appoints more ag officials

WASHINGTON -- President Obama on April 17 nominated Rajiv Shah, the director of agricultural development at the Gates Foundation in Seattle, to be the agriculture undersecretary for research, education and economics, and Kevin Concannon, the dire...

WASHINGTON -- President Obama on April 17 nominated Rajiv Shah, the director of agricultural development at the Gates Foundation in Seattle, to be the agriculture undersecretary for research, education and economics, and Kevin Concannon, the director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, to be agriculture undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.

Both appointments, which require Senate confirmation, have implications for production agriculture.

Shah's appointment could prove controversial because he has not worked in the land grant college system for which USDA provides a great deal of funding.

The undersecretary for research, education and economics oversees the research activities at USDA laboratories and the land grant colleges and also sets the tone for research at the agricultured department. There have been continual battles over the years between the smaller land grant colleges, which prefer formula grants that go to each school, and the bigger land grant colleges and other universities, which prefer competitive grants. Policymakers have argued over whether USDA research money is wasted because it is doled out to too many schools, rather than the best schools or whether the bigger, more prestigious schools.

Shah's work history

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Shah is a medical doctor whose work in agriculture totally has been focused on developing countries. As director of agricultural development in the Global Development Program for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he has managed the foundation's grant-making portfolios in science and technology, farmer productivity, market access, and policy and statistics -- with the goal of helping the world's poor lead healthy and productive lives.

The Gates Foundation recently funded a Chicago Council on Global Affairs report that concluded there should be a bigger role for the U.S. Agency for International Development in agricultural research and that Congress should repeal a U.S. law forbidding government funding on research on products that foreigners could use to compete with U.S. agriculture.

Shah joined the foundation in 2001 and previously served as the foundation's director of strategic opportunities and deputy director of policy and fi-

nance for global health. In these roles, he helped develop and launch the Foundation's Global Development Program and the International Finance Facility for Immunization -- an effort that raised more than $5 billion for child immunization and hopes to save more than five million lives around the world. Before joining the foundation, Shah was the health care policy advisor on the Gore 2000 presidential campaign.

Shah is the co-founder of Health Systems Analytics and Project IMPACT for South Asian Americans. He has served as a policy aide in the British Parliament and worked at the World Health Organization. Shah serves on the boards of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, the Seattle Public Library and the Seattle Community College District.

He earned his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and master's degree in health economics at the Wharton School of Business. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the London School of Economics and has published articles on health policy and global development. In 2007, he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, the Swiss-based organization that meets annually in Davos.

Concannon's experience

The undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services oversees about 68 percent of the USDA budget including the food stamp program, school meal programs and commodity distribution programs. Because Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have said that children's nutrition will be a high priority, Concannon, the nominee, is likely to play a role in the government's efforts to discourage obesity. This effort is likely to cause battles within agriculture because it will involve encouraging the American people, especially children, to eat less calorically dense foods such as meat, dairy products and snack foods and to eat more more fruits and vegetables.

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Concannon was appointed Iowa Department of Human Services director in March 2003. He was re-appointed DHS director by Iowa Gov. Chet Culver and Lt. Gov. Patty Judge in January 2007. Iowa DHS provides authority and financing for health care for Iowans of all ages through the Medicaid program and the Iowa hawk-i program. The agency also is the lead agency for child welfare, low income assistance programs, child support collections, food assistance and behavioral health care, and directly operates four state psychiatric hospitals and two centers for Iowans with developmental disabilities, two state juvenile residential centers and the Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders.

Concannon served as Maine's Department of Human Services commissioner from 1995 to 2003. From 1987 to 1995, he was the director of the Oregon Department of Human Services. From 1982 to 1987, he was commissioner of the Maine Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. From 1980 to 1982, he was commissioner of the Maine Department of Mental Health and Corrections.

He has led efforts at the state level to obtain more affordable prescription drugs and has been instrumental in increasing access to food stamps, farmers markets and simplified application processes for state residents, the White House says. He has been a leader in long-term care system reform for elderly and disabled persons and has championed improved child support and child care programs.

Concannon has served as president of the American Public Welfare Association and previously served as president of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

"From children's and juvenile services, to Medicaid, public health and many other areas, Kevin has dedicated his career to improving the lives of millions in every stage and every circumstance of life," Vilsack said in a statement. "Now we're tapping his leadership and experience to serve citizens across the nation and address President Obama's deep concern for the health and welfare and particularly the nutrition of America's children."

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