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APHIS Leadership and Biographies

Gregory Ibach, Under Secretary
U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs

Mr. Greg Ibach was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in by the Secretary as USDA’s Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs (MRP) on October 30, 2017.

In his role as the Under Secretary, Mr. Ibach carries out the MRP mission area’s broad task of facilitating domestic and international marketing of U.S. agricultural products and ensuring the health and care of animals and plants. The MRP Mission Area is comprised of the Agricultural Marketing Service Agency and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Agency. Following the Secretary’s realignment of a number of USDA offices in September 2017, the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration and several programs from the Farm Service Agency are now housed under the Agricultural Marketing Service Agency. 

Before becoming Under Secretary, Mr. Ibach served as Nebraska’s Director of Agriculture since June 2005. He was a visionary leader for Nebraska’s agriculture, effectively supervising Departmental staff and programs with the ability to analyze issues, develop strategies, and create solutions for domestic and global initiatives. Mr. Ibach had oversight of Nebraska’s plant and animal heath regulatory functions. He has been actively involved in foreign and domestic marketing and development activities for the better part of his career.

Mr. Ibach has been inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Agricultural Achievement and honored with the Service to Agriculture Recognition from the University of Nebraska- Lincoln, College of Agriculture Science and Natural Resources. He is also a former President of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

Mr. Ibach earned his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the University of Nebraska with majors in Animal Science and Agricultural Economics. He and his wife, Teresa, have three grown children and live on their farm and ranch in Sumner, Nebraska.

Kevin Shea, Administrator
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)

Kevin Shea was appointed Administrator of the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on June 18, 2013, after serving as Acting Administrator since June 2012.

In his role as the APHIS Administrator, Mr. Shea carries out the agency’s multiple missions of protecting the health and value of American Agriculture; mitigating the impact of human-wildlife conflict to protect agriculture, environmental, and human health and safety; ensuring the safe and timely availability of new genetically engineered technologies; and administering the Animal Welfare and Horse Protections Acts.

In addition to his APHIS duties, during 2016 Mr. Shea served as the USDA Agency Transition Director and from January 20 through October 31, 2017, served as the Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

Before becoming Administrator, Mr. Shea served as the Associate Administrator from 2004 to 2012; the Deputy Administrator for Policy and Program Development from 2000 to 2004; and Director of Budget and Accounting from 1992 to 2000.

Mr. Shea is a graduate of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, MD, and the University of Maryland in College Park, MD. He earned a law degree, summa cum laude, from the University of Baltimore School of Law. A native of Washington, DC, Mr. Shea now resides in Crofton, MD.

Dr. Michael Watson, Associate Administrator, APHIS

Michael WatsonDr. Michael Watson was appointed Associate Administrator in January 2018.  In this position, he works in partnership with Administrator Kevin Shea and fellow Associate Administrator Mike Gregoire to carry out the Agency’s day-to-day operations, represent APHIS on Departmental-level and cross-Agency working groups, and oversee the activities of every APHIS program area and support unit on behalf of employees and stakeholders.

Prior to joining the Administrator’s office, Dr. Watson served as the Associate Deputy Administrator for the Agency’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs Business Services (MRPBS), where his responsibilities included supporting the delivery of human resource management, financial management, and administrative services for APHIS and its sister Agency USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).  At APHIS, Dr. Watson also had responsibility for support services, including information technology, emergency management, safety and security, acquisition and asset management, and investigative services.

Prior to becoming the Associate Deputy for MRPBS, Dr. Watson spent 1.5 years as the Director of the Human Resources Division in MRPBS.  In this role, he led delivery of human resource services for APHIS, AMS, the Foreign Agricultural Service and the Merit Systems Protection Board. 

Dr. Watson has a wealth of Federal experience having worked for several different Departments.  He began his Federal career in 1994 at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service where he worked as a plant pathologist for three years. He went on to hold positions with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, before beginning his APHIS career with Biotechnology Regulatory Services (BRS) in 2003.  After serving in several roles over 7 years with BRS, Dr. Watson moved to Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) where he served as the Associate Executive Director and Executive Director for Plant Health Programs and the Associate Deputy Administrator for Policy Management during his 5 years with the program. 

Dr. Watson received his Bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1987 and his Doctorate in plant pathology from the University of California, Davis in 1994.  A Maryland native, Dr. Watson now resides in Davidsonville, MD.

Dr. Jack Shere, Deputy Administrator, Veterinary Services (VS), Chief Veterinary Officer

Dr. Jack Shere was appointed Deputy Administrator in March 2016 and leads the program’s many employees in protecting and improving the health, quality, and marketability of U.S. agricultural animals, animal products, and veterinary biologics.  He also oversees VS’ national and international reference laboratory network.

Dr. Shere joined VS in 1990 as a field veterinary medical officer in Nebraska and Wisconsin and has held many leadership positions since then, including Associate Western Regional Director from 2002 to 2005 and Eastern Regional Director from 2005 to 2013.  More recently, Dr. Shere served as VS’ Associate Deputy Administrator since 2013.

Dr. Shere has extensive experience with animal disease outbreaks, including salmonella enteritidis, foot-and-mouth disease in England, low pathogenic avian influenza, Exotic Newcastle Disease (END), and highly pathogenic avian influenza.  During the extensive 2002-2003 END outbreak in California, Texas, New Mexico, and Utah, Dr. Shere served as the Joint Area Commander and Incident Commander, leading a massive federal and state eradication effort for nine months until the disease was eradicated from the United States.

Dr. Shere received a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry in 1981, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1987, and a Master of Science in Education with a minor in Counseling in 1988 – all from Iowa State University. He received  PhD’s in Poultry Science and Microbiology in 2001 from the University of Wisconsin. He also practiced veterinary clinical medicine for 3 years in Georgia.

Bernadette Juarez, Deputy Administrator, Animal Care (AC) Program

Ms. Juarez leads the program’s many employees in protecting and ensuring the welfare of millions of animals nationwide that are covered under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Horse Protection Act (HPA).  She also oversees the collaborative work done at AC’s Center for Animal Welfare, building critical partnerships domestically and internationally, while seeking to improve regulatory practices and develop training and educational resources.

Prior to being named Deputy Administrator in February 2016, Ms. Juarez served with APHIS’ Investigative and Enforcement Services (IES), first as Deputy Director for nearly 5 years and then as Director beginning in 2013.  As Director, Ms. Juarez was responsible for leading investigations of alleged AWA and HPA violations, as well as all other APHIS-administered statutes and regulations, and pursuing enforcement actions where warranted.  She also transformed the unit’s ability to complete investigation and enforcement actions nearly 50% faster by streamlining its business processes and focusing on the highest priority investigations.

Ms. Juarez’s experience enforcing the AWA and HPA began prior to her joining APHIS as a trial attorney in USDA’s Office of the General Counsel from 2002 to 2009.  In over 6 years, she represented APHIS in numerous AWA and HPA administrative enforcement proceedings. 

In 1999, Ms. Juarez completed her Bachelor in Business Administration from the University of New Mexico.  She went on to earn her Juris Doctor from American University, Washington College of Law, in 2002.

Although originally from New Mexico, Ms. Juarez currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, with her husband Brian and two children, Concetta and Miles.

Osama El-Lissy, Deputy Administrator, Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ)

Since July 2013, Mr. El-Lissy has served as the Deputy Administrator for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services’ Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ). In this position, he leads and directs a nationally dispersed staff that safeguards U.S. animal and plant resources from destructive pests and diseases and facilitate the global trade of U.S. agricultural products.

For nearly two years before becoming PPQ’s Deputy Administrator, Mr. El-Lissy was the Associate Deputy Administrator responsible for policy and financial management within PPQ. Before that, he directed PPQ’s emergency management, providing national coordination in the preparedness, response, and recovery from plant health emergencies in the United States. This included working with federal and state governments, industry stakeholders, and subject matter experts to develop and implement comprehensive plans designed to safeguard American agriculture against invasive pest outbreaks.

From 2000 to 2005, Mr. El-Lissy served as the APHIS National Coordinator for cotton pest programs. In that role, he provided the coordination for national cotton pest programs in the United States and Mexico, including the boll weevil and pink bollworm eradication programs.

Mr. El-Lissy’s previous experience includes more than twelve years in the private sector managing large scale pest control and eradication programs. As the director of the Texas boll weevil eradication program from 1994 through 2000, Mr. El-Lissy led one of the largest pest eradication programs in the world, affecting approximately four million acres of cotton and providing services to several thousand cotton producers and landowners.

Mr. El-Lissy earned a master’s degree in international business administration from Georgetown University, a master’s degree in public administration from American University, and a bachelor of science in agriculture production and entomology from Cairo University.

Bethany Jones, Deputy Administrator, Legislative and Public Affairs (LPA)

Ms. Jones provides leadership and guidance to effectively communicate APHIS policy developments and program accomplishments. Ms. Jones is responsible for the overall planning and direction of LPA activities, which include media and industry outreach, legislative analysis, Freedom of Information and Privacy Act requests, production of informational materials, and response to media, congressional, intergovernmental, and citizen inquiries about APHIS programs.

Ms. Jones began her career with APHIS in 1990, after graduating from Randolph Macon Woman’s College with a bachelor of arts degree in English. She accepted a position as a writer/editor with LPA’s Executive Communications program and has been with LPA ever since. Ms. Jones spent 11 years in LPA’s Public Affairs office where she served in various positions including editor of the Agency’s newsletter, outreach campaign coordinator, international trade public affairs specialist and Deputy Director of Public Affairs. In 2000, she was named Director of Public Affairs with responsibility for managing the Agency’s media, outreach, publications, web, and audio visual functions. In 2003, Ms. Jones was selected as Associate Deputy Administrator for LPA and then in 2007 as Deputy Administrator.

Christine Zakarka, Deputy Administrator, Policy and Program Development (PPD)

Ms. Zakarka provides leadership for the overall planning and directions of policies, programs and activities at APHIS.  She is also responsible for the Agency’s budget, regulation development and environmental compliance programs.

Prior to her recent appointment, Ms. Zakarka served since 2001 as Chief of PPD’s Planning, Evaluation, and Monitoring staff.  In that role, she was responsible for developing the Agency’s strategic and operational plans, evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of APHIS programs, and analyzing and improving business processes.  Ms. Zakarka has also held numerous other positions in APHIS, including as a Manager of Information Technology Planning and as an Employee Development Specialist. She has served on several temporary managerial details, including Acting Director for the Agency’s Conflict Prevention and Management Program, Acting Director of the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, and most recently, Acting Assistant Human Resources Director. 

Ms. Zakarka obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Urban Planning from Fordham University and her Masters degree from University of Maryland University College.

Mark L. Davidson, DVM, MS, Deputy Administrator,Marketing and Regulatory Programs Business Services  (MRPBS)

Dr. Mark Davidson is responsible for providing human resource management, financial management, acquisition and asset management, and administrative services to APHIS, and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).  He also oversees a variety of support services in APHIS, including information technology management, emergency management, safety and security, and investigative services. 

Before joining APHIS in 1998, Dr. Davidson spent two years with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. He has held positions with APHIS’ Veterinary Services (VS) which spans 19 years in the field, in the regional office in Fort Collins, CO and at headquarters. Prior to his current role, Dr. Davidson was the Associate Deputy Administrator with VS, in Riverdale, Maryland, where he provided planning, policy, program, and regulatory oversight and implementation for VS’ National Import Export Services activities in an integrated structure focused on safeguarding U.S. animal health and facilitating trade in animals and animal products. 

While animal health has been his primary focus, Dr. Davidson has become adept at financial management, acquisition and asset management, emergency management, and human resource management in order to successfully address disease outbreaks and effectively manage VS’ expansive import/export portfolio. Dr. Davidson received his DVM and Master’s Degree in veterinary pathology from Auburn University and his Bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Western Kentucky University.

Michon Oubichon, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Diversity and Inclusion

Ms.  Oubichon was selected as the Director in January 2017 and provides leadership and guidance to ensure APHIS and its clients are in compliance with the provisions of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Civil Rights laws, workforce diversity programs, Federal regulations and Departmental/Agency-wide policies.

Ms. Oubichon’s career in agriculture spans 19 years and includes service at the county, State, and Federal levels.  She has more than 14 years’ experience as a senior leader who leverages creativity and innovation, with extensive experience in the areas of EEO, affirmative employment, diversity and inclusion, and international trade within the Federal government.

Ms. Oubichon attended Mount St. Mary's College in California and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Science with a minor in Psychology and a professional development certificate in Horticulture.  She began her career with the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office as an Associate Agriculture Inspector with the “Closing the Los Angeles Marketplace Pathway Program.”  She then served as a Biologist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture in the Pest Exclusion Program.  She joined APHIS’ Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program in 2002 at the Port of Long Beach as a Plant Health Safeguarding Specialist and held a collateral duty position on the Western Region Equal Employment Advisory Committee as the African American Program Manager.  In 2008, she joined PPQ’s Export Services staff, covering the Asia, Australia/New Zealand region and the European Union.  Prior to her appointment Ms. Oubichon worked in OCRDI, as the Deputy Director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, where she was a leader in workforce diversity and cultural transformation.

Michael J. Firko, Ph.D., Deputy Administrator, Biotechnology Regulatory Services (BRS)

Dr. Firko provides leadership and direction to ensure the safe development and introduction (importation, interstate movement, and field testing) of genetically engineered organisms.

Dr. Firko’s USDA career spans more than 26 years, most of which he spent at APHIS, along with several years at the Agricultural Research Service. In fact, Dr. Firko first joined APHIS to work for Biotechnology, Biologics and Environmental Protection—the predecessor to BRS. The majority of Dr. Firko’s APHIS career, however, has been with our Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program where he served in a number of leadership positions.

As APHIS’ Executive Sponsor for ePermits, Dr. Firko led the Agency’s transition to an on-line, electronic permitting system. He also led the creation of PPQ’s Remote Pest ID system, which uses digital images to help identify intercepted pests and expedite cargo clearance. In addition, Mike led PPQ’s Plant Pest Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory, the National Plant Pest Identification Services, and the Plant Germplasm Quarantine program. Following the terrorists attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. Firko helped create and subsequently led the Federal Select Agent Program until his move to BRS in 2011.

Dr. Firko joined BRS as the Acting Associate Deputy Administrator in July 2011, and was officially named to that position in March 2012. A little more than a year later, in May 2013, he was asked to serve as BRS’ Acting Deputy Administrator. In addition to his BRS responsibilities, Dr. Firko currently serves on USDA’s Science Council as the Marketing and Regulatory Program’s mission area representative, In that role he facilitates and supports cross-Department coordination and collaboration of science-related activities.

Dr. Firko received his Doctorate degree in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1986.

Dr. Firko was born in New Jersey, and has lived and worked in Colorado, Alabama, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Texas, and Maryland.

Cheryle Blakely, Deputy Administrator, International Services (IS)

Ms. Blakely leads a 300-person staff domestically and overseas, directing cooperative efforts with foreign governments to prevent the introduction of high-risk pests and diseases into the United States.  She is also responsible for protecting and expanding overseas markets for U.S. agricultural goods, supporting rural incomes and jobs.   Through IS’ capacity building programs, Ms. Blakely helps broaden APHIS’ safeguarding system by leading work in developing regions to improve their infrastructure to detect and respond to emerging pest and disease threats.
Before assuming this role in 2018, Ms. Blakely had served as IS’ Associate Deputy Administrator since 2012, directing the operations and objectives of 28 IS posts worldwide and acting as a key liaison between IS, other USDA agencies, international organizations and other non-governmental organizations. 

She first joined APHIS in 2006 as IS’ Chief of Staff.  She then served as U.S. General Director of the U.S.–Panama Bi-Lateral Screwworm Commission before returning to Washington, D.C., in 2010 to serve as the Administrative Director for IS.  In 2011, she detailed to the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) in their Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program, where she worked on agricultural business investments as part of the Presidential Grow Africa G8 Task Force for Markets and Partnerships in Tanzania, Africa. 

Before joining APHIS, Ms. Blakely had a long and successful career with the military.  Following six years of active duty service in the U.S. Air Force, Ms. Blakely embarked on a distinguished civil service career at the Department of Defense while continuing ten years of active reserve military duty.  During her civilian career, Ms. Blakely served as Head of Business Operations and Marketing for the Morale, Welfare and Recreation enterprise at Yokota Air Base, Japan; and as Director of Acquisitions for the Air Force Wargaming Center in Montgomery, AL.

Ms. Blakely has a Bachelor’s Degree in Occupational Education from Eastern Illinois University-Carbondale, IL; and a Master of Science in Public Administration from Russell Sage College, Albany, New York.    She is a native of New York and has 2 children.

Janet Bucknall, Deputy Administrator, Wildlife Services (WS)

Ms. Bucknall is responsible for the overall planning, coordination and direction of WS’ national operational and research programs.  Prior to assuming the role of Deputy Administrator in 2018, she served as WS’ Eastern Regional Director where she led WS’ activities in 31 states as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Ms. Bucknall, a wildlife biologist, joined APHIS in 1987 as part of a WS’ Supervisory Training Program.

Although Ms. Bucknall has spent most of her career with WS, from 2014 to 2016 she served as the Associate Deputy Administrator for BRS, where she handled the international and emerging issues portfolios.  Before moving over to BRS, Ms. Bucknall spent 7 years as the Deputy Director for Wildlife Operations with WS’ Operational Support Staff headquartered in Riverdale, MD.

Prior to moving to APHIS’ headquarters, Ms. Bucknall was the State Director of WS’ New Jersey, New York City and Pennsylvania program.  She served in this role from 1991 to 2007 focusing on migratory bird damage management, predation management to protect rare and endangered shorebirds and airport wildlife hazards management.

Before being named State Director, Ms. Bucknall spent two years with the New York WS program, and her WS career started in Wisconsin where she helped Wisconsin dairy farmers resolve damage caused by Canada geese and removed beavers and beaver dams to protect and rehabilitate trout streams. 

Ms. Bucknall has Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in wildlife management from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the University of Minnesota, respectively.

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