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Still no presidential nominees to several top posts at USDA, EPA


WASHINGTON, D.C. — As President Donald Trump passes the one-third mark of his four-year term, the White House has had the fewest nominees confirmed to date and the most unfilled top posts of 1,242 senior positions in federal government, compared to the past four administrations during the same period, according to various tracking initiatives.

Only 12 of the top 26 critical political appointee positions at the USDA and EPA have won Senate confirmation, leaving leadership posts vacant at the two agencies that provide the most wide support and oversight for the agricultural community.

Overall in government there are 1,242 presidential appointments that require Senate confirmation. Of the top 656 government posts, only 300 have been confirmed, including those highest at the USDA and EPA as of April 20, excluding judicial and military appointments.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan Partnership for Pubic Service, a nonprofit that monitors the selection of political appointees by the president, tracking data shows that in addition to those confirmed, another 139 candidates have been formally nominated and eight posts are awaiting nomination, but Trump has still not picked candidates to fill 209 other top administration positions, including nine at the USDA and EPA.

He has said Democratic obstruction in the Senate is the reason why “many important positions in government are unfilled,” but he has been slow in naming appointees, as well.

The President has had the smallest percentage of nominees confirmed as of last Friday, relative to recent predecessors in the same time period, according to Politifact.com. Only 57 percent of Trump’s nominees have been confirmed, compared to Obama’s 67 percent; George W. Bush’s 78 percent; and Clinton’s and George H.W. Bush’s 81 percent each.

Just this month the White House nominated Jim Hubbard to fill the important USDA post of under secretary of Natural Resources and Environment, overseeing the U.S. Forest Service. His nomination brings the number to five candidates facing Senate confirmation out of 26 high-level positions split evenly between the USDA and EPA.

Only one top position at the Food and Drug Administration needed confirmation, seating Commissioner Scott Gottlieb nearly a year ago. The FDA has 166 open positions, 30 that pay a salary of $115,000 or more and listed as department heads (none of these posts require Senate action).

Hubbard comes to the $165,500 USDA post after working for the Colorado Forest Service for the past 35 years. If confirmed, he’ll run a division that is facing a 15 percent budget cut of $851 million of a budget of $4.8 billion and more than 1.000 job reductions through attrition rather than from layoffs, the USDA outlined in its 2019 budget forecast.

Other USDA nominees include Stephen A. Vaden as general counsel, Naomi Earp for assistant secretary for Civil Rights and Kenneth S. Barbic for assistant secretary for Congressional Relations.

Awaiting nomination are candidates for chief financial officer, as well as under secretaries for Food Safety, Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services and Research, Education and Economics. The latter post is responsible for distributing more than $100 billion in food assistance to 78.4 million people, and oversees nutrition and dietary programs.

One of the most critical unfilled senior positions in federal government requiring Senate action is the USDA’s under secretary for Food Safety, a post that has remained vacant as it heads into its fifth year. Carmen Rottenberg, a veteran USDA civil servant, was appointed to the sub-cabinet post last August as acting deputy under secretary.

Last July, Samuel Clovis Jr. had been nominated to serve as under secretary for Research, Education and Economics, but was forced to withdraw his name after he came under attack for his controversial opinions and questions about lack of scientific expertise.

On March 6, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue administered the oath of office to his latest top deputy, Bill Northey, under secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service.

At the EPA, coal-mining lobbyist Andrew Wheeler was confirmed April 12 as deputy administrator, the agency’s No. 2 spot. Last week’s Senate vote leaves only two other EPA nominees awaiting confirmation: William McIntosh for assistant administrator for International and Tribal Affairs, and Peter Wright for assistant administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

Four other assistant administrator posts await nominees, including the slots for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, which last year had a nominee, Michael Dourson, withdraw his name after criticism from two Senate Republicans.

The three other assistants are for Administration and Resources Management, Research and Development and Environmental Information.

The lack of progress of bringing Senate confirmations to a vote is due to a series of factors. Despite Republicans holding the Senate majority, Democrats have been successful in slowing the appointments coming up for a floor vote. There are no scheduled confirmation hearings for the two EPA nominees or the three USDA candidates.

To tract the appointments and confirmation of candidates for federal government agencies, visit https://ourpublicservice.org/issues/presidential-transition/political-appointee-tracker.php

4/25/2018