Winona H. Varnon, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Management—Biography

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Secretary Arne Duncan named Winona H. Varnon principal deputy assistant secretary for management on Jan. 26, 2010. In her post, she provides leadership, oversight and advice to him on human resources, information management, security, equal employment opportunity, facilities and management services, and continuity of government operations. To help ED meet its strategic and other goals, she leads the seven units within OM, which are: Equal Employment Opportunity Services, the Executive Office, Facilities Services, Management Services, Human Capital and Client Services, Privacy, Information and Records Management Services, and Security Services.

Prior to this assignment, starting in November 2008, Varnon was the acting director for Human Resources Services, which included human capital planning and policy, labor and employee relations, personnel and payroll processing, performance management, benefits, employee development and training, and hiring. She led this office during the 2008-09 transition, while, at the same time, serving as ED's Security Services director, her first job at the Department. In that job, in addition to the Department's physical security protection, she was responsible for personnel security screening, continuity of operations, and information and classified programs. She brought more than 20 years' experience from three federal agencies with her when she came to ED in 2004.

Born and raised in West Point, Ga., Varnon attended integrated schools for the first time in fourth grade and, after finishing high school, enrolled at Alabama State University in Montgomery. There, in 1982, she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice after only three years and, with one more year to go on her scholarship, stayed on to earn a master's degree in American history. In 1983, she started law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where, as a third-year student, she began her federal service as a GS-7 legal intern with the U.S. Department of Justice. She completed some 500 immigration cases in one year and received a special act award for excellence in 1986, the same year she graduated from Howard with her J.D. degree.

In 1987, she began work as a staff attorney in DOJ's labor law division, where she worked on employment cases and, after she won an important immigration case, was recruited by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), where she would work for the next 15 years, first as an equal employment opportunity (EEO) specialist, then, after completing federal law enforcement training, as a criminal investigator. She later moved back into EEO work, receiving a promotions to deputy director and director of EEO.

After serving a detail as a special assistant to the INS's associate commissioner, in 1995, she was named deputy director of security and tasked with recruiting, investigating, hiring, and training 18,000 new law enforcement officers, a task she achieved before being promoted to the senior executive service in 1997. That year, she was named director of security for the INS, a post she held for five years and, during which time, she received the attorney general's leadership award, which gave her the chance to earn a mid-career master's in public administration from Harvard in 2001.

In 2002, Varnon was named head of airport security for the Transportation Security Administration, where she implemented its security policy and threat and risk assessment programs for more than 400 airports nationwide, among other duties.

Prior to joining ED, she served for one-and-a-half years as the Office of Personnel Management's assistant director for investigative services, leading an organizational merger that incorporated DOD security investigators into OPM's Federal Investigative Program, thereby reducing annual costs by $21 million.

In addition to her full-time work, Varnon is admitted to the bar of Maryland and has volunteered for SOME (So Others Might Eat), the American Red Cross, and the Horton's Kids tutoring program. She is a 2007 recipient of the President's Gold Volunteer Service Award.

A photographer and filmmaker, Varnon and her husband, the Rev. Hare Varnon, an ordained minister with the Corporate Chaplains of America, live in Woodbine, Md. They have a son, Cameron, 30, who is a journalist in Lexington, Ky.

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Last Modified: 04/27/2011