It is with great sadness that we note the May 18th passing of Dr. Meryl Broussard. Throughout his over 33 year federal service with USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and predecessor agencies, he demonstrated a sustained commitment to excellence and integrity in the many leadership roles he held. He had the utmost respect for the development and dignity of employees at all levels of the organization, which featured respect for their work/life balance. Above all, he believed that the agency made a difference in the lives of the agency's stakeholders and took every opportunity to remind each and every NIFA staff member that their work was a key component that helped to make that difference. Dr. Broussard passed while in service as NIFA the Associate Director of Programs, responsible for the agency's $1.7 Billion science portfolio.
Dr. Broussard began his federal career over 33 years ago as USDA's first National Program Leader for Aquaculture, where he provided effective leadership for development and implementation of major new university-based aquaculture research and extension outreach programs. As a result of his ability to lead programs and people, he was promoted to the position of Director for the Animal Systems Division within the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), where he led USDA's extramural research and extension outreach programs aimed at developing enhanced and sustainable livestock production systems. Later, he joined the Senior Executive Service as the Deputy Administrator for Plant and Animal Systems within CSREES where he provided leadership for the agency's science portfolio for sustainable plant and livestock production systems.
In 2008 he was asked to provide leadership for the planning, development, and establishment of NIFA as mandated in the 2008 Farm Bill. As a result of his leadership, NIFA was built from the ground up providing a framework to optimize organizational effectiveness and to catalyze efforts of the agency in advancing the goals of the Administration through a renewed commitment to excellence in the agricultural sciences. Following the establishment of NIFA, he was appointed as NIFA's first Deputy Director for Agriculture and Natural Resources. In 2014, following administrative realignment of the program and operational functions of the agency, he was appointed as the Associate Director for Programs responsible for the agency's science portfolio. By 2019, this portfolio had grown to over $1.7 Billion. His strong commitment to diversity goals and equal employment opportunities enhanced program delivery while fostering a workplace environment that ensured co-workers, customers, partners, and stakeholders are treated fairly, and with dignity and respect.
A sampling of Dr. Broussard's executive leadership accomplishments include:
Dr. Broussard provided exemplary and highly effective leadership in the planning, development, and establishment of NIFA as a new agency within USDA as mandated by the 2008 Farm Bill. He ensured active engagement of the entire agency in the transition process through direct participation on teams, extensive listening sessions, electronic and hard copy suggestion boxes, and an agency intranet site. Extensive external stakeholder input was also solicited through a Federal Register announcement and comment review process. Input from internal and external stakeholders was carefully analyzed in developing the recommended organizational structure of the new agency in consultation with departmental leadership.
Key recommendations were developed and presented to the Secretary of Agriculture as part of the formal reorganization package that included the new organizational structure, a detailed staffing plan, a description of all of the agency's legislative authorities and the delegation of these authorities within the new organizational structure, and a detailed Civil Rights Impact Analysis. All recommendations were approved by the Secretary and Dr. Broussard was then asked to provide leadership for the implementation of the reorganization. Throughout the implementation of the reorganization, he carefully evaluated human resource needs and reassignments for all NIFA employees with an acute sensitivity to employee perspectives. He worked closely with NIFA's Director for Equal Opportunity and the Department's Office of Compliance, Policy and Training to ensure that no employee was adversely impacted by the reorganization and that NIFA did indeed establish a culture of inclusion within the new organization.
Dr. Broussard worked closely with the first ever Presidentially-appointed Director of NIFA to ensure the new Director's success in the planning, development, implementation, management, and oversight of the diverse programs administered by this new agency. In May of 2011, he again demonstrated his leadership skills when he had to provide additional transitional leadership with the sudden unexpected resignation of the first Director of NIFA. He worked closely with the Interim NIFA Director to ensure a smooth and transparent transition during the search for a new Director. In May of 2012, he worked closely with the new Director to ensure another effective leadership transition. He also demonstrated effective executive leadership in the development and execution of NIFA's extremely complex $1.5 billion budget for FY 2011-2016 in an extremely challenging and turbulent budget climate. His efforts to consolidate and eliminate NIFA budget lines were effective. Active and direct communication with agency staff and stakeholders regarding budget reductions or increases ensured an informed workforce and stakeholder community. Throughout these major organizational, leadership, and budget transitions, Dr. Broussard served as a major calming, stabilizing, and forward-looking force ensuring that the critical needs of staff, stakeholders, and customers were being addressed as this new agency was created.
As a result of his ability to lead change and people, a new agency, NIFA, was effectively built from the ground up. Four new multi-disciplinary outcome based science Institutes were established within NIFA providing an effective framework to catalyze the agency's efforts to advance the goals of the Department through a renewed commitment to excellence in the agricultural sciences. These new Institutes brought together multi-disciplinary teams focused on critical national needs enhancing the overall quality, relevancy, and performance of the extramural science programs administered by the agency. The integration of research, education, and extension outreach across funding authorities and organizational structures were greatly enhanced. Staffing redundancies and organizational barriers were eliminated. Through the intensive engagement of NIFA employees and external stakeholders throughout the process, a shared vision for the agency was developed creating an inclusive and high performing organization. Continuity of operations and mission-critical services were maintained at high levels throughout the reorganization. All goals, objectives, departmental regulations and legislative requirements related to this major reorganization were met well ahead of schedule. In establishing NIFA as a model federal agency, Dr. Broussard demonstrated a strong commitment to workforce diversity goals and the development of a culture of inclusion within the agency fostering a workplace environment that ensures co-workers, customers, partners, and stakeholders are treated fairly, and with dignity and respect. In 2014, Dr. Broussard received the USDA Unsung Hero Award from the Secretary of Agriculture. This award nomination was generated by a diverse group of employees that he mentored over several years demonstrating his commitment to developing others to help them achieve their professional goals while optimizing their ability to contribute directly to the mission of the agency. In 2015 he was inducted into the NIFA Hall of Fame
Dr. Broussard demonstrated his executive leadership skills in the implementation of a number of complex, highly visible, and politically sensitive programs established in the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills. These programs included the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Initiative, the Biomass Research and Development Initiative and the Centers of Excellence and Commodity Board provisions. Through enhanced communication and coordination across several interdependent organizational units within the agency, he provided broad agency-wide leadership and oversight for implementation of these complex grant programs. He provided quick, firm, and fair responses to concerns expressed by applicants, Congress, and the Department in the implementation of these programs. He briefed the Office of the Secretary and Congressional staff regarding the integrity of the peer review and selection processes used in these programs. Program refinements were implemented in subsequent years, enhancing the peer review process and overall quality of the programs. As a result, his direct engagement ensured that the overall integrity of these programs was maintained at very high levels. Program implementation was enhanced, and new approaches and innovations were effectively incorporated into these programs. Initial concerns expressed by stakeholders, Congress, and the Office of the Secretary were effectively addressed optimizing broad support for these programs. As a result of the successful implementation and delivery of the new initiatives in 2008, all of these programs were reauthorized in the 2014 Farm Bill.
Meryl was a native of Memphis, Tennessee and received Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Vertebrate Zoology from the University of Memphis. He received his Ph.D. in Aquaculture from Texas A&M University. He spent time on the Texas A&M teaching staff and was associated with the university when he was an Aquaculture Advisor in the Philippines on a USAID project. A longtime member of the World Aquaculture Society, he served as that international professional society's president in 1996-1997. He represented the Secretary of Agriculture as he served as Chair of the Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture, National Science and Technology Council, Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Dr. Broussard will be remembered by the agency as a key figure in the development of the modern organization, a major influence in the long term growth in resources that the agency has to carry out its mission, a representative of his profession that raised the profile of agricultural science within the federal science enterprise, and a colleague to those at every level that helped USDA/NIFA make a difference in people's lives.