The Senate Agriculture Committee finally cleared the nominations of three top U.S. Department of Agriculture officials, including Mindy Brashears to be undersecretary of agriculture for food safety, Naomi Earp to be assistant secretary of agriculture for civil rights and Scott Hutchins to be undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics. The nominees may now be considered by the full U.S. Senate for confirmation.
“These three nominees have proven their abilities and are more than ready to serve in the capacities they were nominated,” Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said. “I urge my colleagues in the Senate to confirm these qualified nominees as quickly as possible.”
The committee held a hearing on the nominees on Nov. 28, 2018, and cleared them out of committee in early December 2018. However, they failed to get the final clearance for a full floor vote before the last Congress ended. At the end of January, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue inserted each of the nominated individuals into deputy roles within the agency as they awaited action from the Senate to clear their nominations.
Brashears was a professor of food safety and public health and the director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech University. Brashears’ research program focused on improving food safety standards to make an impact on public health. Her highly acclaimed work evaluates interventions in pre- and post-harvest environments and on the emergence of antimicrobial drug resistance in animal feeding systems. These efforts have resulted in commercialization of a pre-harvest feed additive that can reduce Escherichia coli and salmonella in cattle. She also lead international research teams to Mexico, Central and South America to improve food safety and security and to set up sustainable agriculture systems in impoverished areas. She is past-chair of the National Alliance for Food Safety & Security and of the USDA multi-state research group.
The National Turkey Federation (NTF) issued a statement applauding action on Brashears’ nomination.
“Food safety is the top priority of the turkey industry, and we need strong leadership at USDA to help guide these policies at the federal level,” NTF president Joel Brandenberger said. “Dr. Mindy Brashears’ experience in academia and food safety research, as well as her clear passion for enhancing consumer education on food safety, makes her an excellent selection for the position of undersecretary for food safety."
Hutchins formerly served as global leader of integrated field sciences for Corteva Agriscience and as an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska. Previously, he served as president of the Entomological Society of America. Hutchins earned his bachelor's degree in entomology from Auburn University, a master's from Mississippi State University and a Ph.D. from Iowa State University.
Earp is a retired career civil servant with more than 20 years of experience in federal equal opportunity policy, charge processing, complaint handling and employment law. She entered federal services as a GS-9 career employee and worked her way to the senior executive service level prior to appointments as chair and vice chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President George W. Bush. Throughout her career, Earp has been a strong advocate for labor management partnership and cooperative business models to raise awareness and address both disparate treatment complaints and allegations of systemic discrimination. Her federal equal opportunity, civil rights compliance and public policy career includes positions with the U.S. Department of Commerce, USDA and the National Institutes of Health. Born and raised in Newport News, Va., Earp received a bachelor's in social work from Norfolk State University, a master's from Indiana University and a Juris doctorate from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law.
Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D., Ohio), chair of the House agriculture nutrition subcommittee, sent a letter to Perdue in advance of a Senate hearing to review Earp's nomination.
“I am concerned by Secretary Perdue’s decision to appoint Ms. Earp to a senior level position that does not require Senate approval while her confirmation remains in pended status. I have, in my letter, asked the secretary to provide additional details on Ms. Earp’s would-be role and responsibilities, the organizational structure of her mission area, specific details on the decision-making behind USDA’s recent civil rights work and details on Ms. Earp’s plans to address allegations of harassment and workplace discrimination, if confirmed,” Fudge said. I remain committed to holding USDA accountable. We must continue to push for strong leadership and civil rights enforcement throughout the department to ensure workers’ rights are protected to the full extent and letter of the law.”