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New USDA chief lawyer an Arkansan

by Frank E. Lockwood | August 1, 2021 at 4:21 a.m.
Janie Simms Hipp

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination late Friday of Janie Simms Hipp to serve as general counsel of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Fayetteville attorney, who serves as chief executive officer of the Native American Agriculture Fund, was nominated by President Joe Biden and approved on a voice vote.

She will be the agency's chief law officer, overseeing more than 200 attorneys.

Hipp's path to confirmation was aided by bipartisan support in the Senate Agriculture Committee. U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas, the committee's top Republican, portrayed her as well-qualified.

"The general counsel at USDA must be someone who can be relied upon by Congress and the agriculture community to provide sound, practical, and candid legal guidance to the department," Boozman said in a written statement Friday evening. "I am confident that Janie Hipp will excel in that regard, and I am encouraged by Ms. Hipp's commitment to transparency and open communication with Congress when she is at the Department."

After noting her "timely, bipartisan" confirmation, the lawmaker from Rogers said: "It will be a welcome sight to have a fellow Razorback serving in a leadership capacity at USDA."

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the committees' chairwoman, called Hipp "an exceptional candidate to lead the Office of General Counsel at the USDA."

"Her experience and her leadership have more than prepared her for the tough work ahead at the Department," she said in a written statement.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also welcomed Friday's vote, predicting Hipp would faithfully work "to enforce the laws and regulations of the USDA and ensure the interests of the American public are served by USDA's programs and services."

"Adding Janie's expertise to the strong senior leadership team at USDA will only further our efforts to expand opportunity for those who live, work and raise their families in rural communities, especially in those communities that have experienced persistent poverty, make good on USDA's responsibility to provide nutrition assistance to children and families, and contribute to removing barriers to access to USDA programs wherever they exist," he said in a written statement.

A citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, Hipp grew up in Idabel, Okla., an agricultural community. Her grandfather owned a local small tractor dealership that went under during the 1980s farming crisis.

A 1978 graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she earned her juris doctorate from the Oklahoma City University School of Law in 1984.

After a stint with the Oklahoma attorney general's office, she enrolled in the University of Arkansas School of Law, earning a master of laws in agriculture law in 1996.

Since then, she has served in a number of capacities, including as an assistant professor of agricultural law at the University of Arkansas and as founding director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas.

Hipp also worked as the USDA secretary's senior adviser for tribal relations and as director of the Office of Tribal Relations during the presidency of Barack Obama.

CORRECTION: Janie Simms Hipp enrolled in the University of Arkansas School of Law, earning a master of laws in agriculture law in 1996. An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the school.

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