Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, the President’s choice to be the next Under Secretary of Food Safety  at the Department of Agriculture, Monday will begin her fourth month of waiting to be confirmed by the United States Senate.

Hagen, chief medical officer at USDA, was named on Jan. 25 by the President as Nominee to run USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).   She continues her work as medical officer while waiting for Senate confirmation.

usda-fsis-nomination-featured.jpgUntil now, Senate confirmations have not been a problem for USDA.  On paper, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate all on Inaugural Day.

Others named to Under Secretary positions at USDA gained Senate confirmation in as little as 10 to 15 days.  Some took a little more time.  Under Secretary Edward Avalos (marketing) took the longest to date at 110 days to get confirmed.

The last time the Senate confirmed an Under Secretary of Food Safety, Dr. Richard A. Raymond, was July 1, 2005, and it took 35 days.

So what’s the holdup with Hagen?  The first step in the confirmation process is getting through the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, chaired by Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-AR.

“It is the Chairman’s prerogative as to when nomination hearings are held,” an Ag committee source said.  Inquiries to Lincoln’s office about when hearings on Hagen’s nomination might be scheduled went unanswered.

National Public Radio (NPR) reported Wednesday that 99 executive and judicial nominations for key posts are being held hostage by the Senate procedure known as a “hold.”  A “hold” occurs when there is a threat to filibuster a nomination.

Senate sources, however, say “holds” do not come into play until a nomination has cleared whatever committee is charged with doing the review.  In other words, “holds” do not occur until a nomination is pending on the Senate floor for the final vote on confirmation.

The last Senate-confirmed Under Secretary for Food Safety, Raymond, left the job about three months before former President Bush moved back to Texas.  President Obama waited one year and one week before nominating Hagen.  And now the Senate has consumed three months more, meaning USDA’s top food safety position has gone vacant for 18 months with no end in sight.

While she was not well known to outsiders at the time the President appointed her, Hagen has won praise from those who do know her, including from Raymond, who worked with her during his tenure and credited her work in managing recalls.

Prior to her appointment as chief medical officer, she was a senior executive at FSIS, where she played a key role in developing and executing the agency’s scientific and public health agendas.

The White House said “she has been instrumental in building relationships and fostering coordination with food safety and public health partners at the federal, state, and local level.”

Before joining the federal government in 2006, Hagen taught and practiced medicine in both the private and academic sectors, most recently in Washington, DC.  She holds an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, and a B.S. from Saint Joseph’s University.

Hagen completed her specialty medical training at the University of Texas Southwestern and the University of Pennsylvania, and is board certified in infectious disease.