Thursday, March 21, 2013

LL.M. Alums Take the Lead at USDA Risk Management Agency

We were delighted to have an opportunity to talk via live video conference with two of our distinguished LL.M. alumni last Friday.

Brandon Willis was recently confirmed as the Administrator of the Risk Management Agency (RMA) at the USDA.  The RMA is "the agency that promotes, supports, and regulates sound risk management solutions to preserve and strengthen the economic stability of America's agricultural producers by providing crop insurance to American producers, developing and the premium rate, administering premium and expense subsidy, approving and supporting products, and reinsuring companies."

Prior to accepting the position at RMA, Brandon served as Senior Advisor to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Title I commodity programs, farm legislation matters and disaster assistance.  And, before advising Secretary Vilsack, he served as Deputy Administrator of Farm Programs for USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA).  In that position, he oversaw all FSA programs under the Production Emergencies and Compliance Division (PECD), Conservation and Environmental Programs Division (CEPD), and Price Support Division (PSD).

After Brandon completed his coursework in the LL.M. Program, he went directly to Washington, D.C. to serve as the Agriculture Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Max Baucus. He drafted floor statements on agricultural issues and worked closely on legislation, including the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, with a particular focus on the livestock disaster programs. He also drafted legislation that supported the use of existing conservation programs to help fight the declining population of bees and other pollinators.

While in the LL.M. Program, Brandon served as a Graduate Assistant for the National Agricultural Law Center.  He earned his bachelor's degree in crop and soil science from Utah State University in Logan, Utah, and his law degree from the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo., and his LL.M. degree in Agricultural Law from the University of Arkansas School of Law.

Brandon grew up on a third generation sheep ranch in northern Utah and managed his family's raspberry farm, Bursting Berries.

Along with Brandon, we talked with another alumnus, Benjamin Thomas.  Ben was recently appointed Assistant to the Administrator at RMA. Before accepting the position with Brandon, Ben worked at the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) as a Program Manager, a position that he took immediately after completing his LL.M. course work. While at FSA, he was detailed to the Office of Senator Baucus, where he served the Senate Agriculture Committee and worked on the yet-to-be-passed 2012 Farm Bill.

Ben received his B.A. degree from Austin College (English Literature, German), his J.D. from Washington University School of Law, and his LL.M. in Agricultural & Food Law from the University of Arkansas School of Law.

He grew up on a cotton farm in the Lubbock, Texas area.

Brandon and Ben discussed farm policy issues and fielded questions from the LL.M. class. It was an informative session and a great opportunity to see and hear from alumni that are doing such important work. We are very proud of their accomplishments.

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