Vilsack Confirms to Lucas that Sequester Will Disrupt Meat InspectionsTue, 05 Mar 2013 16:41:22 CST
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas questioned the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, during a committee hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday. The hearing was convened to determine what specific cuts would be made by the Agriculture Department following the phase in of budget reductions as a result of the sequestration. (You can hear a portion of their conversation by clicking on the LISTEN BAR at the bottom of this story.)
Lucas focused on Vilsack's earlier statements that the sequester would force him to furlough federal meat inspectors which, beef industry analysts have cautioned, might throw the industry into chaos. Vilsack reiterated that he believes his hands are tied.
"Eight-seven percent of the budget is front-line inspectors and the support system for those front-line inspectors," Vilsack said. "We have a limited amount of time in which to implement the sequester-six, seven months. The impact of it is, basically, ten to 12 percent of our remaining budget and no matter how you slice it, no matter how you dice it, there is nothing you can do without impacting the front-line inspectors. You don't have the luxury you do under normal circumstances of transferring money, because there is no money to transfer based on the way the sequester is structured."
Vilsack said there would be disruptions in the meat inspection process due to the interwoven nature of operations at the nation's 6,263 inspected facilities. He said that the furloughs would also have to be coordinated with union officials.
"So if the Sequester Act trumps the Food Safety Act, which is basically what you're saying, do your union labor agreements trump the Sequester Act?" Lucas asked.
"No, Mr. Chair, the way I see it is the Food Safety Inspection Act requires companies that want to sell meat, process pork, whatever, to have those items inspected before they can sell them to customers. The law also requires that the companies cannot privatize, if you will, that inspection service. It has to be done by USDA officials, USDA employees. That is subject, obviously, to having the resources and the appropriation to be able to pay for those inspections because you have anti-deficiency issues. So, it's not a matter of trumping, it's a matter of the sequencing of this. If you don't have the money to pay people, you can't have people on the line."
Vilsack also said it could take months to work through the furlough process before he will know just what impact they would have on the meat industry.
Click here to read Lucas's opening statement to the committee. You can also hear Vilsack's opening statement by clicking here.
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