Start Early. Start well.

April 16, 2024

National Early Childhood Policy Expert Linda Smith to Join Buffett Early Childhood Institute

Smith Will Join the Institute as Its First Director of Policy, Expanding the Organization’s Footprint in the Federal Policy Field

OMAHA, Neb.—The Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska is today announcing that Linda Smith will join the staff as its first director of policy. Smith is one of the nation’s foremost experts on early childhood federal and state policy, and was most recently director of the Early Childhood Development Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) in Washington, D.C.

In this new role, Smith will lead the Institute’s policy work with a specific focus on military, rural, and tribal child care, and early childhood financing. She will also continue her efforts engaging the business community in child care initiatives nationwide. Smith will be based in Washington, D.C.; her first day at the Institute will be May 1.

“I am excited to bring my experience in early childhood policy to the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, which truly ranks as a one-of-a-kind institute in the nation,” Smith said. “I share a deep passion for this work with Buffett Institute Executive Director Walter Gilliam, and after many years of our work intersecting, I look forward to formally joining forces with him and the dedicated team at the Institute to address the urgent and growing needs of young children, families, and educators across this country.”

Prior to her work at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Smith served as deputy assistant secretary for early childhood development at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2011 to 2017, where she oversaw the nation’s Head Start program, child care subsidy system, and other federal early childhood systems. Smith also worked at the U.S. Department of Defense from 1989 to 2000, ultimately serving as director of the Office of Family Policy. She helped redesign the early childhood care and education program for the United States military, which has been widely heralded as an innovative model to support military families. 

“I have known Linda Smith for nearly two decades and have seen firsthand her singular ability to build and implement transformative programs that are moving the needle in the early childhood field,” said Gilliam. “Her depth and breadth of knowledge in early childhood policy is unmatched, and I could not be more excited to bring her talents and expertise to the Buffett Institute as we work to fulfill our mission of transforming the lives of young children in Nebraska and across the nation.” 

Many of Smith’s policy achievements have been the result of building bipartisan coalitions across the executive and legislative branches of government. As a legislative fellow at the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), she was largely responsible for guiding the bipartisan negotiations that led to much-needed revisions to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), the main federal law on child abuse. 

In addition to her role at the Institute, Smith will have an appointment as professor of education and early childhood development at the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Also, Smith will be a senior fellow at Child Care Aware of America, the nation’s leading voice for child care. 

“I couldn’t be more thrilled and inspired to have the opportunity to work closely with Linda Smith again to create actionable solutions to America’s child care challenges,” said Susan Gale Perry, CEO of Child Care Aware of America. “I look forward to collaborating with Linda, Walter, and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute in the days ahead.”

Smith started her career in early childhood education on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in her native state of Montana. She is a graduate of the University of Montana. A full biography can be found here

"With the addition of Linda Smith, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute will be even better positioned to affect federal and state policies that support the development and education of our youngest children,” said Dr. Jeffrey P. Gold, the chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and priority candidate to be the next president of the University of Nebraska System. “I’m delighted that the university will become home to another nationally recognized leader in early childhood policy.”

The Buffett Early Childhood Institute is the University of Nebraska’s system-wide institute dedicated to the learning and development of young children. The Buffett Institute was established with a founding gift from Omaha philanthropist Susie Buffett and opened its doors in 2013.
Scroll to top