Senator Chuck Grassley is leading a group of senators asking U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the department's discussion of furloughing meat inspectors due to the sequestration.
"Furloughing meat inspectors may shut down meat and poultry facilities and harm workers, farmers, and consumers. I find it hard to believe that reductions can't be made elsewhere in the department that don't impact health and safety. If the department believes it needs to go to these drastic measures, the public ought to know if other areas within the department are seeing the same kinds of cost-saving measures as something as important as meat inspectors," Grassley said.
The senators specifically ask for the clarification and the legal rationale for the claim that meat inspectors can be furloughed. In addition, the senators want to know how the department is handling budget cuts for travel, conferences and operating expenses.
"The President has done little to help prevent the cuts he suggested in the first place. Not to mention that he campaigned last fall on the fact that they "will not happen.' His campaign style approach to averting the sequestration is unfortunate," Grassley added. "It's time for the President to join Congress to focus on the spending discipline needed to restore confidence in the economy."
The letter was signed by Grassley and Senators Thad Cochran, Deb Fisher, Mike Johanns, Pat Roberts, John Boozman, Saxby Chambliss, John Hoeven and Jerry Moran.
Here is a copy of the text of the letter.
February 26, 2013
Secretary Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
You have recently discussed with farm groups and media outlets the impact that sequestration, as mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, will have on the Department of Agriculture (USDA). In particular, you have mentioned on numerous occasions the likely furlough of meat and poultry product inspectors. Of course, USDA is required to perform these inspections under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and the Poultry Products Inspections Act (PPIA). The health, safety, affordability, and availability of meat and poultry products are of the utmost importance for all Americans. Without inspectors, meat and poultry product production facilities will be shut down, and products will stop flowing to grocery store shelves.
Farmers, meat processors, poultry product processors, and consumers will all be severely hurt if USDA fails to have inspectors on the ground performing their required duties in accordance with FMIA and PPIA. The comments you have made in the press, to farm groups, and at the recent USDA Outlook Forum, suggest you view there is a rigid legal duty to furlough all employees at USDA without concern for USDA's statutory duties, or for the health and safety of consumers. Since that is apparently your view, please respond to the following questions and requests for further information:
1) What is USDA doing to reduce spending in the areas of travel, seminars, conferences, and operating expenses in light of sequestration? Please provide an accounting of the savings USDA expects to save from these areas.
2) Please provide any written legal opinions you have been provided by USDA attorneys, the White House, or the Office of Management and Budget, indicating you have the ability to disregard the requirements under FMIA and PPIA and furlough inspectors.
3) Please provide your plan for furloughs in the office of the USDA Secretary due to the requirements of the Budget Control Act of 2011.
4) In a letter you sent in mid-February to the American Meat Institute, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Chicken Council, and the National Turkey Federation, you stated, "[W]ere sequestration to become reality, it simply would not be possible for FSIS to achieve the requisite level of savings by furloughing non-front line staff alone." Please explain this assertion. In addition, please explain why USDA cannot use furloughs in other mission areas in order to keep FSIS inspectors on the job. If you have received written legal opinions pertaining to sparing FSIS inspectors and furloughing other USDA employees instead, please provide a copy.
We are confident you have the ability to implement sequestration at USDA without jeopardizing the ability of Americans to feed their families and seriously hurting U.S. farmers, meat and poultry production facilities, and workers in those facilities. We look forward to receiving a response to the above questions and information requests. Due to the time sensitivity of this matter, we would appreciate receiving your response by no later than March 4, 2013.