The nomination of Mindy Brashears, currently deputy undersecretary for food safety, to be the USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety was reported favorably Tuesday out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

The last to serve as the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety was Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, who left the post in December 2013.

The president nominated Brashears, a former Texas Tech University food safety professor, to the undersecretary position on May 4, 2018. Under the Senate confirmation process, her nomination was referred on May 10, 2018, to the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, which first reported out the nomination favorably on Dec. 5, 2018.

The full Senate, however, never got around to voting on the Brashears nomination before the end of the congressional session. Her nomination was returned to the White House on Jan. 3 this year and reinstated in the current Congress on Jan. 16. To get Brashears into government service without having to wait for the Senate’s OK, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue named her to the deputy food safety position on Jan. 28.

At the same time, Perdue named Naomi Earp as USDA’s deputy assistant secretary for civil rights and Scott Hutchins as the agency’s deputy undersecretary for research, education, and economics, similarly avoiding the wait for their Senate confirmations.

The 115th Congress also expired in early January before the Senate voted on Earp and Hutchins for the top jobs, which were also renewed for the current 116th Congress.

Only  62 percent of USDA’s top jobs are filled with someone named by the President and confirmed by the Senate. According to the Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post,  61.3 percent of the 715 top jobs in the federal government are filled by confirmed appointees.

With 277 of those positions still requiring either a presidential nomination or a confirmation, the Senate remains a stumbling block for Brashears and others. Unless food safety is found to be more important than politics, the confirmation procedure will require a full 30 hours of Senate floor time before there can be an up-or-down vote on each of the USDA nominees.

“These three nominees have proven their abilities and are more than ready to serve in the capacities they were nominated,” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, said. “I urge my colleagues in the Senate to confirm these qualified nominees as quickly as possible.”

Roberts is the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

As USDA’s undersecretary of agriculture for food safety, Brashears would be responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, and certain egg products. She also would have jurisdiction over food inspectors and the safety of USDA-regulated products in interstate commerce and when exported.

While awaiting the Senate floor vote, Brashears moved from her residence about 20 miles from the Texas Tech campus in Lubbock, TX, to Washington D.C. At TTU, she was a professor of food safety and public health and director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence. Perdue said Brashears’ research program focused on improving food safety standards to make an impact on public health.

Her work evaluated interventions in pre- and post-harvest environments and on the emergence of antimicrobial drug resistance in animal feeding systems. Many say her work resulted in reductions of E. coli and Salmonella in cattle.

She was also recognized for her food safety and security work in Mexico, Central, and South America. Brashears is also a past chair of the National Alliance for Food Safety and Security and for the USDA multi-state research group.

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Photo of Dan Flynn Dan Flynn

Editor Dan Flynn is a Northern Colorado-based writer and editor with more more than 15 years of food safety experience. As a public affairs professional, he worked with government and regulatory agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. His career as a journalist included working for newspapers throughout the West, from the Black Hills to Seattle. His on-scene reporting on the collapse of the Idaho’s Teton Dam and the suicide bombing at Washington State University’s Perham Hall was carried by newspapers around the world and was recognized both times regionally by the Associated Press for Best Reporting on a Deadline. Most of the disasters he attends these days involve food illnesses.