Harden up for No. 2 USDA position

Krysta Harden

Krysta Harden

WASHINGTON -- Krysta Harden, a native of Camilla, got endorsements Tuesday from Georgia congressmen on both sides of the aisle on her nomination to become the No. 2 official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Harden's July 27 nomination by President Barack Obama for deputy secretary of USDA was brought before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on Tuesday. She was introduced by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, who is the ranking member on the committee and its former chairman.

"I was delighted to hear of the administration's decision to appoint Krysta Harden to the position of Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.," Chambliss said Tuesday. "I offer her my sincerest support and congratulations. Growing up on a south Georgia farm has made Ms. Harden particularly well prepared for this position, and her first-hand knowledge of farming issues as well as commitment to the agricultural community will ensure her success in this new role.

"The department will be well served if Ms. Harden is confirmed by the Senate and I urge my colleagues to support this nomination."

She also was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, who serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies. He testified to the Senate panel on her behalf Tuesday.

In his introduction to the committee, Chambliss said he met Harden in 1980 when she was a volunteer for House candidate Charles Hatcher, who was making his first run for Congress.

"It's been a real privilege to watch Krysta grow and mature into the great person she is now, but also the great leader she is now," Chambliss told the committee. "She's had great experience both on and off the Hill in preparing her for this position that she's been nominated to, which obviously is the No. 2 position at USDA."

Harden, who is currently chief of staff for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, went to work for Hatcher as a receptionist after he won a House seat and was promoted several times, ending up as Hatcher's chief of staff. She was in that position when Hatcher lost his Second Congressional District seat to then-state Rep. Bishop. In 1995, Hatcher and Harden married.

"I have known Krysta, and her husband, Charles (Hatcher), for decades and consider them dear friends," Bishop told the Senate committee. "She also happens to be my constituent, hailing from the largely rural Second Congressional District of Georgia, having been born and raised on one of the many peanut farms in Mitchell County."

That farming background was cited by both Chambliss and Bishop as a key reason Harden is ideal for the USDA appointment.

"Though she has served many years in Washington, D.C., Krysta still refers to herself as a 'Georgia farm girl,'" Bishop said. "I am proud to say she has never forgotten her roots and will bring a wealth of knowledge grown from her rustic upbringing as well as her many years of federal experience to her new position with USDA."

Harden "worked on the Ag Committee as the chief of staff for one of the subcommittees that Charles (Hatcher) was the chairman of," Chambliss noted. "But probably -- and, of course, being in the administration now as congressional liaison and then chief of staff of the secretary lets her know what has gone on inside USDA over the last several years -- I think what has prepared her most for this job is the fact that she grew up on a farm in south Georgia. Her dad, who is also a dear friend, Jimmy 'Hard Rock' Harden, is here. He's a row-crop farmer in south Georgia, so Krysta knows first-hand what it's like to watch the crops be planted, hope there's rain and hope prices continue to rise, so she's well prepared for this position."

Bishop noted that Harden had 16 years of experience on Capitol Hill, including time as staff director of the House Agriculture Peanut and Tobacco Subcommittee. She served six years as chief executive officer of the National Association of Conservation Districts, which represents the 3,000 districts tasked with carrying out natural resource management programs.

"Most recently," Bishop said, "she joined Secretary Tom Vilsack at USDA as the assistant secretary for congressional relations, ultimately being promoted in 2011 by the secretary to the department's chief of staff.

"As a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, I have had the privilege of personally working with her on a range of challenging and sensitive issues during her tenure in this administration. I can say that I have found her bipartisan and no-nonsense approach to problem-solving, her ability to listen and her persistence and follow-through, to be altogether refreshing and valuable."

Bishop said he had always found Harden to be "honest, forthright and fair" and said she "has shown herself to represent the highest standards of public service."