Career service appointments in the federal government must go on even if the U.S. Senate has become a black hole for political appointments.

At the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)–second only to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in importance as food safety regulatory agencies–that means making Alfred V. Almanza’s appointment as administrator permanent.

He’s been the highest career service FSIS employee since taking a “limited term” appointment in 2007.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on May 6 that he was making Almanza’s appointment permanent.  It is subject to final approval by the federal Office of Personnel Management.

Almanza, who began his career as a meat inspector in a small Dalhart, TX slaughterhouse in 1978, should report to the Under Secretary of Food Safety.

After himself waiting a year and a week to fill that vital post, President Obama’s pick of Dr. Elisabeth Hagen as Under Secretary of Food Safety has now been left marinating in the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee for more than 100 days.

Almanza moved up from being a meat inspector to a series of management positions that took him to being district manager in Dallas with responsibility for 600 FSIS employees assigned to 350 meat and poultry establishments.

“During his 30-plus years of service in FSIS, Al Almanza has worked tirelessly to fulfill the agency’s critically important mission–keeping the public safe from foodborne illness,” Vilsack said.  “I know he will continue to do an outstanding job managing a large agency and helping USDA meet the food safety challenges of the 21st century.”

As the top career man in FSIS, Almanza is in charge of 9,500 employees, a job that includes maintaining the agency’s management relationship with the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, the employee union.

Ironically, while waiting for confirmation from the U.S. Senate, Hagen, who is chief medical officer for USDA, is actually continuing to report to Almanza.   If and when she is confirmed, those reporting roles will be reversed.

Senate Ag Committee observers say the confirmation process for Hagen is in the hands of Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln, D-AR.   She faces a tough battle for re-election in 2010, with both primary and general opponents.  The Ag Committee apparently makes it the “chairman’s prerogative” as to when nominations under its jurisdiction are heard.

The President last year named Jerold Mande as deputy under secretary of food safety.   He too is on the job and joined Vilsack in praising Almanza.  “Al Almanza brings a wealth of common sense, knowledge, experience, and commitment to FSIS,” Mande said.  “He has used these skills to make our food safer.  I look forward to working closely with him to reduce further foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

There has not been a Senate-confirmed Under Secretary of Food Safety to run FSIS since Richard A. Raymond left the post before President George W. Bush left office.