Janet Nuzum, 59
Senior Advisor and Director of Asian American and Pacific Islander Affairs, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Hometown: Arlington, VA
How did you get here?
I came to the nation’s capital straight out of college, interested in a career in law and government affairs. Like many young people who come here, I thought I might work in DC only a few years; and then a few decades flew by. I started my career as a paralegal working on international trade cases, went to Georgetown for law school, and worked on Capitol Hill for the House Ways and Means Committee. I received a Senate-confirmed Presidential appointment to serve a term on the US International Trade Commission, where we implemented some of the very statutes I helped draft on the Hill, resolving trade disputes ranging from steel to wheat to flat-panel displays. I next worked for a food industry trade association and developed experience from the industry side on policy and regulatory issues, coalition building, and member relations. After nearly 30 years working in international trade law and policy, I then decided to switch careers completely and established a small business as a sustainable landscape designer. In 2008, I worked on President Obama’s campaign, and in 2009 was honored to be invited to be a part of the Obama Administration, joining the Department of Agriculture.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career?
Although I did not always realize its influence at the time, my Japanese heritage was a big factor in the evolution of my career. As an undergraduate student at Smith College, I studied abroad in Japan to learn more about my mother’s native country. That experience overseas sparked an interest in international relations and led me to work on trade law and policy, first at a law firm and then on Capitol Hill. As my career grew to span a wide range of international policy issues, not just Japan issues, my identity as a Japanese American became a thread weaving in and out of my professional development. Learning about the US internment camp experience of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II deepened my interest in civil rights. Since 1999, I have been a member of the Board of Governors of the Japanese American National Museum. During the Obama campaign, I helped with outreach to the Asian American community, an increasingly important part of America’s political landscape. At USDA, I have moved from management of international agricultural trade issues to the broader portfolio of leading USDA’s implementation of the President’s White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. So now I work every day on helping USDA better serve the needs of the AAPI community, and helping the community better understand and access federal resources.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during the Obama Administration?
I spent six years as a senior appointee at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, leading efforts there to achieve the President’s agenda on exports and trade. During this period, we had big wins that significantly expanded opportunities for US food and agriculture exports, thereby increasing jobs and economic activity in both rural and urban areas. We brought new energy and focus to the role of exports though the National Export Initiative; completed and secured Congressional approval of three new free trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia; launched a new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiation with the Europeans; and completed negotiation of the biggest regional free trade agreement ever, the TransPacific Partnership (TPP). These accomplishments, of course, were the product of many people and agencies across the Administration, but they are accomplishments that I will always be proud to have been an integral part of. Since 2009, agricultural exports from the United States have totaled a record $919.6 billion. Those agricultural exports alone support more than one million good-paying US jobs. With the implementation of the new trade agreements, the prospects of export opportunities for US goods and services are getting even better.
Describe time working in Obama administration in 10 words:
Inspiring, motivating, humbling, fast-paced, historic, challenging, focused on serving others
Complete the sentence: “When I’m not working, I…”
When I’m not working, I am usually spending my free time with my husband -- tinkering around the house or garden, going to the local farmers’ market, exploring area restaurants, attending concerts or plays at the theater. We love going to the Kennedy Center and Wolftrap with friends.