Ag Policy Blog

Meat Inspector Furloughs Remain a Budget Battle

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The Senate plan to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year spends just over $1 billion on the Food Safety and Inspection Service, but USDA indicates it would take another $52 million to avoid furloughing meat inspectors at the agency.

Some Republicans have ramped up criticism of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack over sequester. Former Ag Secretary and current U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska sent Vilsack a blistering letter on Monday in which Johanns question why Vilsack chose not to request some funding flexibility at FSIS to avoid furloughs. Johanns noted Vilsack did so for other agencies at USDA to the tune of about $100 million.

"It is not my intention to suggest that any of these priorities are unimportant, but why would the Administration have failed to submit a similar request in order to prevent the harmful consequences of furloughing meat inspectors, as outlined in your letter?" Johanns wrote. "This lack of effort seems to suggest there is no interest in resolving the issue. Instead, it seems that the threat of inspector furloughs is simply part of the Administration's broader messaging efforts to make the sequestration seem as painful as possible."

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, had demanded legal justification by USDA for the furloughs. Grassley doesn't buy the argument that the sequester trumps the Office of Management and Budget directive from a several months ago that safety, law-enforcement and health should be priorities to protect in the budget. "There is nothing more of a top priority than to keep food safe," Grassley said.

Grassley added, "If there follow the Office of Management and Budget, there isn't going to be much furloughing and I don't think there needs to be any."

Vilsack has argued food safety won't be jeopardized, but work at packing plants could be delayed.

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The Senate Appropriations Committee did not make changes to the funding bill that would boost FSIS beyond the point of requiring inspector furloughs, according to USDA.

A release issued Monday by the Senate Appropriations Committee would fund FSIS at just over $1 billion for the full fiscal year. The committee doesn't make any comments in its report whether that would protect FSIS from sequester, or give USDA flexibility to avoid furloughing inspectors.

The appropriations bill -- a continuing resolution, or "CR" -- is expected to come to the floor in the Senate on Wednesday. The House CR did not deal with meat inspectors. It's expected there will be at least one major amendment on the Senate floor to fix some of the issues with sequester, likely giving more flexibility to departments on where to make cuts.

The argument put forward by Vilsack has been that 87% of the FSIS budget involves front-line meat inspectors so furloughs at packing plants will take place, disrupting the packing industry.

But an FSIS budget document put together last year cited an expected $8.9 million cut with an expected total agency budget of $995 million to do its job for the year. FSIS would also show a $12.9 million decrease in spending due to implementing new methods to inspect poultry facilities.

Moreover, the budget document shows higher payroll for the agency in Washington, D.C., than the top four states for meat inspector costs combined. Georgia, Texas, California and North Carolina combine for $218 million in FSIS payroll while D.C. accounts for $230 million. The D.C. payroll accounts for just under 25% of the $995 million cited in the FSIS report.

Keep in mind, USDA said it needed $52 million more in savings to keep from furloughing inspectors.

FSIS FY 2013 budget document:…

Johanns' letter:…

I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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3/15/2013 | 10:48 AM CDT
Socialism Communism Collectivism have never succeded in making for a great country Europe ha spent 2 centuries proving that. The liberals want to be like that. NO THANKS ! I will keep my freedoms you can surrender yours for some trinket from your beloved gvt. count me out .
Bonnie Dukowitz
3/15/2013 | 9:39 AM CDT
Thanks for again ignoring the most important of your own comment, Jay!!! GIVE to the poor. We are not, nor ever will be wealthy financially. However I despise the government taking under the guise of giving, and have little respect for those who think they are entitled to. We reserve the right and obligation of giving to whom or what! Without that freedom, the providers(taxpayers) this country are in trouble. You are as totally free to do what you like with what is yours but do not ever think you are entitled to what is ours. All the guns in Samolia will do you no good, just as they are not solving anything there, either.
Jay Mcginnis
3/15/2013 | 6:33 AM CDT
Well Gordon the wealthy get plenty benefits from living here, more then the poor, they need to pay their share for those benefits. They buy art for tax breaks and to get their names eternally shrined in a museum for donating it. As for Craig saying the government forcibly confiscates his money,,,, there are places where there are no taxes or government,,,, Somalia is your place, no tax, no government and all the guns you want! I remember a slogan from the Vietnam era,,, said "America love it or leave it" ,,, remember that one? What ever happened to Christianity in this country which teaches giving to the poor, healing the sick, peace (how many rounds would Jesus allow?), give to Ceasar what is Ceasar's (pay your taxes) and that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle then a rich man getting into heaven? Have I missed something being a stupid liberal or do the conservatives just ignore the basic values of a religion they have claimed?
3/14/2013 | 2:39 PM CDT
Jay what in the world are you talking about? I could not care less what the rich do with their money, it not for me to decide, it is not mine nor is it your money. I know what the dude in the scream is screaming about, he was trying to make sense of the insane diatribe of some stupid liberal democrat.
3/14/2013 | 10:08 AM CDT
Jay I have been paying into Medicare, forcibly, for over 40 years now and don't understand people keep refering to it as "entitlement" when it should be viewed as purchased insurance. Maybe you mean Medicaid, where those that haven't paid anything in nor produce anything can get free care. And actually I am more concerned how the government spends the money they forcibly confiscate from my paycheck. The amount they pay ANNUALY for wild horse care out west would have bought the Rothko, something I feel is wrong.
3/14/2013 | 10:05 AM CDT
Jay I have been paying into Medicare, forcibly, for over 40 years now and don't understand people keep refering to it as "entitlement" when it should be viewed as purchased insurance. Maybe you mean Medicaid, where those that haven't paid anything in nor produce anything can get free care. And actually I am more concerned how the government spends the money they forcibly confiscate from my paycheck. The amount they pay ANNUALY for wild horse care out west would have the Rothko, something I feel is wrong.
Jay Mcginnis
3/14/2013 | 6:56 AM CDT
You are correct Gordon! Such foolish programs as medicare, WIC, food stamps need to be gone! I follow many markets and one is the art market which is a gauge of just how our billionaires can NOT stand for a tax hike,,,, just last year Munch's "The Scream" sold at Sotheby's for ONLY $125 million and luckily a billionaire in NY won it instead of an Arab or Asian so it stayed in NY, WHEW. Then you have Rothko's painting "No. 1" which sold more recently along with Pollock's "No. 5",,,, the Rothko only brought $75 million (thats $25 million a stripe) and the Pollock a measly $40 million. My point is that if give our billionaires higher taxes that these treasures can be lost to other countries and the walls of their mansions will be empty!
unknown writer
3/13/2013 | 6:29 PM CDT
Showing again the lack of leadership in the livestock sector. My state's soo called livestock association hasn't said a word about furlough's. How many arguements have there been about the catasrophic effect on crop insurance cuts?? Good for the grain guys at least they have someone in their pocket.
3/13/2013 | 11:21 AM CDT
How come the smartest man in the universe cant figure out how to dump some of the foolish junk we spend our money instead of essential service and the military. If he does not get his way he will make sure it will inconvience the most people possible. You really dont get much more petulent and petty than POTUS . If I acted like that I would be totally ashamed of myself.
Dick Doriguzzi
3/13/2013 | 8:22 AM CDT
Strange that we ,The USA, can give a BILLION $ to Pakistan but not be able to afford meat inspectors for our people .
Bonnie Dukowitz
3/13/2013 | 5:50 AM CDT
A friend of mine is employed with-in one of the governmental agencies. A comment from that individual was" When I first started with this agency, I spent 90% of my time in the field and 10% in the office. Now I spend 90% of my time doing paperwork in the office." Another friend is a school teacher in a special ed area. Her comment was," For every 20 minutes I spend in the classroom, I spend 40 minutes filling out reports and need to make and forward 8 copies of each." Mr. President, we have been sequestered 10% and are still here. Would you please exercise the executive pen and amend your 10% reduction plan to 20%, which may start denting the D.C. fiscal chaos. Thank you