Outgoing Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman will become the new head of the United Nations Children's Fund, she announced. Her appointment as executive director of UNICEF will become official May 1.

Veneman, whose successor, Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns, was expected to be confirmed by the Senate, had been tight-lipped about her future plans after she resigned as secretary but announced Jan. 18 she was taking the UN position.

She cited USDA's work in improving conditions around the world through development activities, direct food assistance such as Food for Peace and science and technology initiatives for increasing agricultural productivity as among her proudest accomplishments at USDA.

“I am pleased that my new role in leading UNICEF will provide opportunities to do even more, and I'm proud to join an organization with a nearly 60-year history of alleviating suffering and saving the lives of the most vulnerable,” she said in a farewell address to USDA employees.

“For me the work of the past four years is not ending. It is just taking another form. There will be new challenges and new faces, but there will continue to be common goals and opportunities to work with old friends.”

United Nations sources were quoted as saying Veneman was UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's first choice to head the agency, which has more than 7,000 employees and offices in 150 countries. USDA, in contrast, has about 24,000 employees in nearly as many nations.

Hoped to stay

Veneman had indicated last fall she hoped to remain in her post of agriculture secretary as President Bush began his second term. But she submitted her resignation to Bush in November along with a number of other first-term cabinet members.

Bush subsequently nominated Johanns, citing his experience on his family's dairy operation. Johanns, an attorney, practiced law in Omaha before being elected to the state legislature and then as governor.

Veneman thanked USDA's employees for their government service during her remarks at the USDA Headquarters Building in Washington.

“Sometimes when we bounce like a pinball from one major issue to the next, our appreciation for everything that you do might go unspoken or unnoticed,” she said. “Our accomplishments are only possible because of the team behind them, and we have an outstanding team.

“I am always impressed at the ability of USDA, not just to adapt to change but to anticipate it. When new challenges emerge the resources of this department are mobilized on a dime. Over and over again when there is a crisis USDA is on the front lines — whether it is an outbreak of animal or plant diseases or a natural disaster like a forest fire, hurricanes or the recent tsunami.”