The long road to confirmation

As of late March, Mindy Brashears is officially the top dog of food safety in America.

She runs the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, “which has regulatory oversight for ensuring that meat, poultry and processed egg products are safe, wholesome and accurately labeled,” according to the agency.

Brashears’ resume is lengthy and impressive. She most recently worked at Texas Tech University, serving as professor of food safety and public health and the director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence. She has more than 25 patents for increasing food safety and has been published many times.

The position of undersecretary for food safety was created in 1994 when USDA was reorganized. She is the fifth person in history to hold the position. Her successor left more than six years ago, as the Obama administration never filled the position. It took the Trump administration over a year after taking office to nominate Brashears.

In November 2018, Brashears was among a trio of USDA nominees considered by the Senate Agriculture Committee, including Naomi Earp to be an assistant secretary of agriculture for civil rights and Scott Hutchins to be under secretary of agriculture for research, education and economics.

The trio was quickly voted out of committee for full Senate consideration exactly one week later.

However, with the 115th session of Congress coming to an end in early January 2019, the nominations lapsed, as Senate Democrats would not allow the nominations to be carried over into the 116th Congress.

In May 2019, the Senate Agriculture Committee voted out the nominees again. All three would sit there … and sit there, because one or more senators had a hold on them.

Earp resigned before she was confirmed. Hutchins is still pending confirmation by the Senate.

Ideally, these three would have been confirmed by unanimous consent, but if only one senator objects, the nominees must go for a full vote before the Senate. Since Democrats are forcing cloture votes on virtually every Trump judicial nominee, these three were put on the backburner. Forcing a cloture vote means using 30 hours of debate time before the Senate can vote on a president’s nominee. It’s the minority’s method of wasting time so fewer Trump nominees will be confirmed.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue gave all three nominees the titles of deputy undersecretaries, which do not require confirmation by the U.S. Senate. This allowed the nominees to have a job while the Senate hem-hawed around with their confirmation.

In her short time at FSIS, Brashears has already “finalized rulemaking for the modernization of swine inspection, is in the process of implementing pathogen reduction performance standards through the public rulemaking process, and is actively seeking new ways to influence positive behavior change to reduce food borne illnesses,” according to USDA.

On March 23, the hold was released, and she was confirmed by the full Senate.

Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.