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Office of External Affairs

The Office of External Affairs (OEA) engages, informs, and educates our partners and the public to advance USDA RD’s mission of improving the economy and quality of life for rural Americans. Together, America Prospers. Through proactive engagement and collaborative dialogue with public and private sector stakeholders, OEA communicates RD’s goals and capabilities through various mediums such as:

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

OEA is the central point of contact for RD’s mission area on public affairs and legislative activities and operates under the direction of the Under Secretary for Rural Development.

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 Susmann
Jacqueline.Susmann @usda.gov

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 www.rd.usda.gov, 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

Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch carries 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

Robert Bolster

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