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The U.S. Department of Agriculture yesterday announced the names of individuals who will hold senior staff positions in Washington, D.C.

Maribel Duran was named Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations in the Office of the Secretary. Duran recently served as Managing Director for Equity and Inclusion for the Aspen Institute, as well as Chief of Staff for its Leadership Division.

From 2018-2019, she was co-chair of the Institute’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council. Previously, Duran served eight years in the Obama Administration, first as Special Assistant to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, then as Chief of Staff for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and ultimately as Chief of Staff for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. She began her career at the Chicago Public Schools. She was the first Latina board trustee at Southern New Hampshire University, a New America Latino National Security and Foreign Policy Next Generation Leader, and a Center for American Progress U.S.-Mexico Leaders Initiative Member. She holds a bachelor’s from Southern New Hampshire University.

Mickeala Carter was named Deputy Director of Communications in the Office of Communications. Most recently, Carter served as Director of Communications and External Affairs for the House Agriculture Committee where she worked for Chairman David Scott. Previous to that, she served as Outreach Coordinator for the Committee under Chairman Collin Peterson. Prior to that, Carter served as Communications Director and Senior Legislative Assistant to Congressman Filemon Vela of Texas. She grew up in DeSoto, Texas, and holds a bachelor’s in agricultural leadership and development from Texas A&M University.

Lynn Overmann was named Senior Advisor for Data and Technology in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration. Most recently, she served as a Senior Data Strategist for Opportunity Insights, which sought to expand economist Dr. Raj Chetty’s pioneering research harnessing big data to improve upward mobility in America. Prior to that, Overmann served as Vice President for Data-Driven Justice and Head of the DC Office for Arnold Ventures. In the Obama Administration, she served as Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Office in the White House, Deputy Chief Data Officer at the Department of Commerce, and in several roles at the Department of Justice. She holds a juris doctor degree from New York University School of Law and a bachelor’s from Bryn Mawr College.

Bidisha Bhattacharyya was named Senior Policy Advisor in the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Previously, Bhattacharyya served as director for Climate and Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress. Prior to joining American Progress, she was Vice President of Emerging Markets at the impact-investment firm Village Capital. She previously spent three years deploying solar energy solutions in rural India with the technology startup Simpa Networks. Bhattacharyya spent four years on Capitol Hill as Senior Energy and Agriculture Policy Adviser to Senator Al Franken of Minnesota and as Energy and Agriculture Legislative Assistant for Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota. She holds a master’s degree from Harvard University and a bachelor’s from St. Olaf College.

Valerie McMakin was named Legislative Analyst in the Office of Congressional Relations. McMakin recently served as a Legislative Assistant for Senator Jon Tester of Montana. She held several roles in Senator Tester’s office, including Staff Assistant, Assistant to the Chief of Staff and Legislative Correspondent. She is a graduate of Emory University.

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Cook County Guardian Speaks Out After He Said He And His Department Were Being Silenced By DCFS

CHICAGO (CBS) — His job is to fight for the kids who can’t fight for themselves.

The Cook County Public Guardian is a watchdog over the Department of Children and Family Services.

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But he tells CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov that DCFS is trying to silence him and his office.

Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert is speaking out again.

This time, after DCFS acting director Marc Smith sent a letter to the guardian’s office attorney Brian Finley, informing him his application to serve another term on the Child Welfare Advisory Committee, or CWAC, was being denied.

“It’s just outrageous,” Golbert said. “And I also say this is part of a very disturbing pattern of silence dissenting voices.”

Golbert said CWAC not only advises DCFS but makes important recommendations on contracts and policies. He said his office has always had an employee on that committee.

Until now.

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“Now the composition of this council essentially all agencies that have contracts with DCFS. That really limits their ability to disagree with DCFS,” Golbert said.

Golbert then fired off a letter to Smith, stating “Without dissenting voices and viewpoints…there’s no hope that DCFS’s systemic dysfunction can improve.”

Dysfunction CBS 2 has highlighted for years. Last October, Golbert went to court to fight for the right of a 17-year-old in DCFS’ care to talk to CBS 2 about being locked in a psychiatric hospital months longer than needed, after DCFS first blocked it.

He spoke out this month about why a 10-year-old girl, who’d repeatedly been sexually assaulted, was returned to her home. And Finley voiced concerns to CBS 2 in August about how a DCFS change in insurance coverage could harm kids in foster care.

A CWAC co-chair and DCFS spokesperson said the goal was the make the committee more diverse, which they did, adding DCFS asked Golbert for a diverse recommendation to fill Finley’s spot.

Golbert said that recommendation request came after Finley’s rejection letter. He added his office represents about half of all children in DCFS care.

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CWAC co-chair Beverly Jones said someone from the Cook County Guardian’s Office can still attend meetings, just not in an official capacity.

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