When this month of June ends, there will be just 200 days to go until Barack Obama is no longer president of the United States. Nobody has yet paid it much attention, but we are already in a transition period between this administration and the next one. We’d like to think its all tidy and fits into those lofty speeches that begin with phrases like: “From this day forward…” But it more messy that that. It never works that way because people who serve in government have their own reasons for departing early, or even late. Just as the Obamas are apparently going to hang around town after giving up the White House so they don’t have to pull their daughters out school mid-year, others will be packing up later this summer or fall for similar personal reasons. exitstrategy_406x250We were not above suggesting that National’s  baseball fan Mike Taylor’s departure just might have been motivated by the desire to free up the time on his schedule to watch the Washington National’s Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Joe Ross turn in a historic summer of pitching. That trio has already won 20 games. For Food Safety News, this means we must begin to focus some attention on the people who are moving into the leadership positions while full well knowing some of these will be in place for short periods of time, and that some won’t. And, while media speculation is always a fun game, the simple truth is we have no way of knowing. We began this weekend by running a get-to-know-me Question & Answer (Q&A) with  Dr. Stephen Ostroff, who has followed Taylor as the FDA’s new Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine (FVM). It was provided by the public affairs folks at FDA, and was something we shared because we thought it was a good read. We hope Ostroff  is as accessible to us and the whole food safety community as was Taylor. He’s already played a key role in the transition game by serving as acting FDA commissioner after Dr. Margaret Hamburg left the post in early 2015. He remained on that job until  the Senate confirmed Dr. Robert Califf’s appointment as FDA Commissioner in late February 2016. natspresidentsrace_406x250We have no clue who will be in FDA leadership in a year from now. We may be entering a period when implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) could conceivably impact the presidential election campaign, now that its come down between a carnival barker and a grifter. Luckily, we have not yet seen any sign that FDA leadership is trying to just stay out of sight during this period. On the food side, they’ve tackled controversial issues like added sugars and salt levels in recent days. Always best to follow Fleet Admiral “Bull” Halsey’s advice: “When you’re in command, command!” While there is nothing predictable about these transition periods, you could probably bet the mortgage money on Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack finishing the race with his president. He is Obama’s only surviving original department head. Vilsack looks likely to become the longest serving Secretary of Agriculture since former Minnesota Gov. Orville Freeman put in eight years for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Except that we keep bringing it up, Vilsack has managed to run USDA without an Under Secretary for Food Safety without anyone else giving it a peep. Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, USDA former chief medical officer, served as USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety from August 2010 to December 2013. Obama was in office for two years before he nominated and the U.S. Senate confirmed Hagen to USDA’s top food safety position. For reasons that have never been disclosed by the self-proclaimed “most transparent administration in history,” the office has been left vacant. Instead, food safety at USDA is headed up by the duo of Brian Ronholm and Al Almanza. Both are listed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) as a “Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety.” His official biography says Ronholm was “named Acting Under Secretary for Food Safety in December 2013,” but since has been referred to as a “Deputy Under Secretary” not the  “Acting Under Secretary.” And when Almanza was appointed Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety by Vilsack in September 2014, the secretary said that Almanza “will simultaneously serve as Acting Administrator, continuing to lead nearly 10,000 employees in the agency’s mission to protect public health.” Any real organizational chart at FSIS would put Almanza in the top box as he is clearly the man charge and the one outsiders most want to see.  No one will be surprised if he remains after Vilsack is gone, at least for some time. Yet, there is a law that says the president of the United States shall nominate a USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety who will assume office once confirmed by the U.S. Senate. It’s been in the law books for the past 23 years. Yet it’s now been left vacant for longer than it’s been filled since it was established in 1993. My bet is the date this transition will end will be the day the Senate confirms the nomination of a USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety from the new president. And if history is any guide, do not expect that new president to make quick nomination — no matter if it is the barker or the grifter who ends up with the job. Sorry we cannot make you feel better about all that. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)