If food safety is more important than commodities to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, this morning is not a good time to try and prove it.

The Committee is holding a confirmation hearing this morning for Heath P. Tarbert of Maryland to be Commissioner and Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) for a five-year term beginning April 14, 2019.

He was nominated Dec. 11, 2018. If confirmed, Tarbert leaving the Treasury Department, where he is Assistant Secretary for International Market, to head the CFTC.

The CFTC is an independent agency that regulates commodity futures and options markets. The Senate Committee is giving Tarbert’s nomination priority over others it could process, including Mindy Brashears’ appointment as the next USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety, a post that has gone vacant for more than five years.

Brashears, nominated by the president on May 4, 2018, was reported favorably out of the agriculture committee last Dec. 5, but the full Senate failed to take up her nomination before the congressional cycle expired. The White House renewed her appointment for the new Congress on Jan. 16, 2019

But the Senate committee has not yet recommended her confirmation to the full Senate. The sense of urgency that existed late thus past year may have been lost when Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue named Brashears as Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety,

Perdue on Jan. 28 also named Naomi Earp as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, and Dr. Scott Hutchins as Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics. Earp’s nomination as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, and the Hutchins nomination as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education, and Economics are also awaiting Senate committee action.

“At USDA, we’ve been engaged in fulfilling our mission without all of our players on the field, so we want to get these strong, qualified leaders in the game,” Perdue said.

Five out of the 12 top USDA jobs reporting to Perdue remain vacant. In addition to the three pending nominees, the Trump White House has not nominated either a chief financial officer or Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.

That’s about on par with the rest of the federal government. The Senate is sitting on more than 140 nominations to the 700 “top jobs,” and the White House has not yet named almost a similar number. The administration is said to have approached the nomination process as a “meat grinder” where you can only put so much in at once.

About 62 percent, or 429, of the 700 top jobs have won confirmation, much lower than previous administrations at this juncture.
Perdue continues to urge the Senate to act on the USDA nominations “as quickly as possible so we can have them in the positions for which they were intended in the first place.”

While the Senate has not made any time available for food safety, nutrition or civil rights, today’s hearing at its core is about money.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission(CFTC) is mostly world markets and trading contracts in such agricultural products and raw materials as wheat, barley, sugar, maize, cotton, cocoa, coffee, milk products, pork bellies, oil, and metals.

Questions for Target will likely involve financial topics including spot prices, forwards, futures, and options on futures.

Before joining the Treasury Department, he was a partner at the international law firm of Allen & Overy LLP. Previously, he served as Senior Fellow at the Harvard Law School Program on International Financial Systems, Legal Advisor to the Systemic Risk Council, Vice President of the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation, and a member of the Board of Advisors for the Review of Securities and Commodities Regulation.

Most commodity markets across the world trade in agricultural products and other raw materials such as wheat, barley, sugar, maize, cotton, cocoa, coffee, milk products, pork bellies, oil, metals, etc., and contracts based on them. These contracts can include spot prices, forwards, futures and options on futures.

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