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USDA official to resign, leaving civil rights post vacant

Lawmakers say her managerial style caused discord and discouraged employees from filing complaints

Department of Agriculture sign in Washington. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Department of Agriculture sign in Washington. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Corrected 4:50 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19 | The effort to fill the top Agriculture Department civil rights post got a setback this week with the resignation of Naomi C. Earp, the nominee for the position who has been serving as deputy assistant secretary for civil rights.

Earp, chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President George W. Bush, has been under fire from Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, chairwoman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations.

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Fudge has said Earp’s managerial style caused discord and discouraged USDA employees and those affected by the department’s programs from filing complaints of discrimination or harassment.

“Whoever next fills this important role must understand the importance of strong civil rights enforcement to ensure everyone who looks to USDA to stand up for them can trust that will happen,” Fudge said in a statement Thursday after learning of Earp’s resignation.

The department said Friday that Earp will remain at USDA until Jan. 31 and that it “will undertake a careful and thorough search for new leadership for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.” It said Earp will not seek renomination for the assistant secretary position.

The Trump administration twice nominated Earp to be assistant secretary for civil rights and the Senate Agriculture Committee twice reported out her nomination, most recently in May.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the committee’s ranking member, said in May that Earp addressed her earlier concern she would not be proactive and aggressive in enforcing civil rights protections or take seriously the need to build a new culture at USDA’s Forest Service that does not tolerate sexual attacks or harassment.

A spokeswoman for Stabenow provided a comment on Saturday. “Over the past few months, she has had concerns about Ms. Earp’s performance and was troubled by her testimony in the House,” the spokeswoman said.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue created deputy posts for Earp; Mindy Brashears, the nominee for food safety undersecretary; and Scott Hutchins, the nominee for undersecretary of research, education and economics in January 2019 after their nominations lapsed at the end of the 115th Congress. Brashears is food safety deputy undersecretary and Hutchins is deputy undersecretary of research, education and economics.

Perdue said he took the unusual but not unprecedented step because he had spent much of 2018 waiting for the Senate to act on their nominations.

The administration again nominated all three on Jan. 16, 2019.

Correction: This story was corrected to reflect the status of Earp and Hutchins and their nominations for jobs in the Agriculture Department.

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