USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is getting a new top administrative officer. Paul Kiecker, who joined the agency in 1988 as a food inspector, is succeeding Carmen Rottenberg as FSIS Administrator.
Kiecker, who’s been deputy administrator since 2018, is the rare civil servant who moves from an entry-level position to the top job in the agency. There’s no reason to think he does not deserve it.
Rottenberg is leaving the federal government after a couple of decades for the private sector. Her experience with food safety, as an attorney, and as a federal executive means she likely won’t be idle for long.
This change in the C-Suite at FSIS does add additional urgency to one long-overdue agenda item. The U.S. Senate has yet to confirm the President’s nomination of Mindy Brashears as USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety.
Kiecker’s job is running FSIS and riding herd on its nearly 10,000 employees. Brashers job is supervising and providing oversight to FSIS to protect its food safety mission.
USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety is the top food safety job in the American government.
Yet it’s been more than six years since anyone’s been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to hold the job. The Senate Agriculture Committee has twice recommended Brashears’s confirmation and major agricultural organizations were sufficiently embarrassed by the vacancy to lobby the Senate to confirm Brashears.
A little more than a year ago, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue named Brashears as USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. That allowed her to get to work, but it’s not exactly like holding the top job with Senate confirmation.
Like many things in Washington, D.C., the Senate’s failure to timely confirm Brashears is one of those instances where is there is enough blame to go around.
In this case, it’s all about Senate floor time. Since Trump got elected, the priority for Republicans has been judges and the priority for Democrats has been slowing down or stopping executive branch appointments. Each appointment –judicial or executive — could eat up 30 hours of floor time, and there’s only so much of that in a week.
Both parties must be enjoying it because they’ve been playing the game for three years. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has delivered 191 judges, nearly as many in three years as Obama was able to name in eight years. But, only 508 of 743 “key positions” requiring Senate confirmation have been confirmed, according to the Partnership for Public Service.
Brashears is now one of 53 formally nominated officials awaiting confirmation. There are also 14 additional executives awaiting nomination. The Trump Administration is not yet advancing nominations for 170 positions.
Meanwhile, Trump has nominated an additional 33 judges. Another six are pending.
Just because both parties have their reasons for doing things the way they do, does not mean it’s good for the country. All these “key positions” should get their confirmation votes.
But Brashears’s appointment as USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety is especially urgent. While the public health crisis the government is now confronting does not involve a foodborne virus, bacteria or parasite, it easily could.
Frankly, the Senate’s failure to give Brashears a confirmation vote amounts to a reckless disregard for the health and welfare of the American people.
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