The Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday advanced a trio of Agriculture Department nominees who were originally named in 2018 but never confirmed by the Senate before the last Congress adjourned. 

The committee approved the nominations on a voice vote after the committee’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, read a statement indicating that the nominee for assistant secretary for civil rights, Naomi Earp, “had worked with the committee to clarify her past comments and has committed to working proactively with the Forest Service on sexual harassment issues.” 

Earp at one time in her career had described sexual harassment allegations as “silliness.” 

Stabenow said she would “continue to monitor her work very closely” at USDA. 

The other two nominees are Scott Hutchins, an entomologist and former Corteva Agriscience executive, who was named to be USDA’s undersecretary for research, education and economics and the department’s chief scientist; and former Texas Tech University food scientist Mindy Brashears, who was named to be undersecretary for food safety. 

Stabenow also expressed frustration that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue had appointed the trio to positions at USDA while they waited for Senate confirmation. Brashears and Hutchins are currently deputy undersecretaries for their mission areas, and Earp is deputy assistant secretary for civil rights. 

Earp served at USDA from 1987 to 1990 and later chaired the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President George W. Bush.

The chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee subcommittee responsible for oversight of USDA operations, Ohio Democrat Marcia Fudge, said she continued to have concerns about Earp and sent a letter to Perdue asking for clarification of her role and responsibilities and details of her plans to address allegations of harassment and workplace discrimination.  

"I remain committed to holding USDA accountable," Fudge said in a statement. "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."

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