Office of External Affairs

The Office of External Affairs (OEA) engages, informs, and educates our partners and the public to accomplish the USDA RD’s primary mission of helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America. Through our programs, we help rural Americans in many ways. Together, America Prospers.

Through proactive engagement and the facilitation of collaborative dialogue with public and private sector stakeholders about USDA RD’s mission, OEA communicates USDA RD’s capabilities to:

  • Offer loans, grants, and loan guarantees to help create jobs and support economic development and essential services such as housing; health care; first responder services and equipment; and water, electric and communications infrastructure.
  • Promote economic development by supporting loans to businesses through banks, credit unions and community-managed lending pools. We offer technical assistance and information to help agricultural producers and cooperatives get started and improve the effectiveness of their operations.
  • Provide technical assistance to help communities undertake community empowerment programs.
  • Help rural residents buy or rent safe, affordable housing and make health and safety repairs to their homes.

Marie Wheat

Marie Wheat is the Director of the Office of External Affairs (OEA) for USDA Rural Development (RD). In this role, she coordinates all public and legislative affairs, as well as communications, messaging, and branding.

Meet our Director

Marie Wheat

Ron Campbell
Senior Advisor

Cheryl Gamboney
Senior Initiatives Advisor

Elizabeth Dann
Special Projects Coordinator

USDA Rural Development

Office of External Affairs
1400 Independence Avenue, SW.
Washington, D.C. 20250-0705

Press Inquiries:

Congressional Inquiries:
(202) 720-9928

The Office of External Affairs is the central point of contact for the Rural Development mission area on legislative and public affairs activities and operates under the direction of the Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development.

The Office of External Affairs consists of three major areas of responsibility: Legislative Affairs, Public Affairs, and Publications.

Public Affairs Division

Public Affairs Branch

The Public Affairs Branch is the primary point of contact for all press inquiries and leads the way for strategic communication with the media for the Rural Development mission area. The branch manages strategy development for, and the execution of, all national-level earned-media campaigns and develops comprehensive analysis for each campaign’s reach and impact.

Branch Chief

Jacqueline Sussman

Field Operations and Multimedia Branch

The Field Operations and Multimedia Branch manages the public-facing marketing materials that represent USDA Rural Development to our customers and communities. These include the brochures and fact sheets, banners and displays, as well as the photos and videos that showcase the projects and programs that improve the quality of life in rural America. This branch also represents the Office of External Affairs with the 47 state offices, and ensures their Public Information Officers have the training and resources they need to serve the internal and external customers of USDA Rural Development.

Branch Chief

James Pendleton

Internal Communications Branch

The internal communications branch reviews and disseminates internal communication to RD audiences. RD conference and event planning functions are also housed here. The review of all internal communications includes providing plain language recommendations and ensuring 508 compliancy. The internal communications team supports the RD employee intranet portal by posting agency announcements and providing human interest stories about RD employees and programs.

Branch Chief

Shani Burley-Moore

New Media Branch

The New Media Branch is responsible for the overall management and dissemination of public information through the USDA Rural Development (RD) public facing website at, RD social media platforms and other digital services such as GovDelivery email services. The New Media branch creates content and develops and implements strategies for web and social media campaigns. In managing the public website, the New Media Branch optimizes the content management system, ensuring that the site design and the user experience is dynamic and accessible while also exploring new digital tools to further enhance RD’s overall digital communications capability. Additionally, the New Media branch supports the national and state offices with digital outreach.

Branch Chief

Karen Priestly

Legislative Division

Director, Gordon Brown

Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch caries out critical assignments associated with legislation and proposals that impact RD’s mission area programs, operations, and activities. This branch provides comprehensive analysis of proposed and existing legislation and directs the development of new legislation and technical language. Additionally, the branch reviews responses to Congressional inquiries submitted by the appropriate RD program area. Furthermore, this branch leads the way for strategic communication with Congress.

Branch Chief

Gerald Conner

Customer Service Branch

OEA’s Customer Service Branch (CSB) interacts daily with members of the House and Senate (primarily at the staff level) about Rural Development awards made in their states and congressional districts. CSB also works with congressional staff, our federal partners and various stakeholder groups about the availability of Rural Development resources – loans, loan guarantees, grants and technical assistance – that can help address needs and concerns in rural areas.

Branch Chief

Leslie A. Brown