Key USDA food safety post still vacant due to vetting

President Obama has not nominated a USDA undersecretary for food safety because the administration has had a hard time finding a candidate who has not engaged in lobbying, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday.

Following testimony before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on the fiscal 2010 budget, Vilsack said the administration wants to follow its rule "to make sure people haven't had lobbying experience" and is thoroughly vetting all candidates.

Lobbyists say it is hard for USDA to fully participate in congressional consideration of the food safety reform and modernization bill without an undersecretary in place. USDA handles food safety for meat, poultry and eggs and the undersecretary for food safety sets policy and handles international food safety issues.

At the hearing, Vilsack said he is coordinating broadband policy with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and that rules should be issued later this month for applications for loans and grants from a stimulus package program to spur broadband development in rural areas. Vilsack said USDA is hiring 40 people to handle applications.

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