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Out with the old, in with the new-ish in USDA’s No. 2 post

Al Almanza puts in his retirement papers; confirmation process begins for Stephen Censky

Al Almanza speaking to Food Safety Summit in May 2016.

The Al Almanza decade as USDA’s most important figure in food safety is ending, and Stephen Censky is coming in as deputy secretary to help Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue run the department.

Almanza, deputy under secretary for food safety and administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), is retiring from government effective July 31. Censky is stepping down as chief executive of the American Soybean Association to take the post at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Almanza’s actual departure will come on a day he chooses, while Censky must go through the Senate confirmation process. There are about 1,200 positions in the federal government that require Senate confirmation. Thirteen of those are USDA jobs, including the deputy secretary and the secretary of agriculture.

President Trump has not nominated anyone to the other 11 top jobs at USDA, including the USDA under secretary for food safety. Between President Obama not filling it during his last three years in office, and President Trump being slow to act, one of the most important food safety positions in the federal government has been vacant for going on four years.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, left, and the man nominated by President Trump to be second in command at the USDA, Stephen Censky.

Censky is no stranger to Washington D.C. or the agricultural industry. He came to the nation’s capitol as legislative assistant for Sen. Jim Abdnor, R-SD, and later served in both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, ending up as administrator of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. He went on to run the American Soybean Association for the past 21 years.

Censky received his bachelor’s degree in agriculture from South Dakota State University and his post-graduate diploma in agriculture science from the University of Melbourne, Australia. He grew up on a soybean, corn and diversified livestock farm near Jackson, MN. He and his wife Carmen reside in suburban St. Louis and have two daughters who are in college.

The Washington Post and the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service are keeping track of the slow-moving confirmation process. They report Trump has not yet named 370 of the 564 “key” positions. Of 139 formal nominations, 48 have been confirmed. Once a nomination is made, the average time to confirmation has been about 45 days.

Almanza has been with USDA for 39 years. He began as just another meat inspector in west Texas in 1978, and finishes out on top after a decade of leadership at FSIS.

“As he stated in his letter to employees, he is proud of the accomplishments to modernize food safety and he leaves knowing that the mission to protect public health will be in the good hands of the nearly 9,500 dedicated public servants of FSIS.” according to a notice posted Friday by USDA.

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