WASHINGTON – The Obama administration may implement a rolling furlough system rather than idle more than 8,000 meat inspectors at the same time, according to news reports.
Speaking to reporters, Michael Conaway, chairman of a House subcommittee said the timing and assignment of the furloughs would be spread across the US to minimize the impact on meat processors. Nine US Senators sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for details about how the agency plans to furlough meat inspectors.
"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," the letter stated.
In the letter the Senators asked:
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," the letter stated.
The spending cuts are set to take effect Friday, however it could be weeks or months before the meat industry is directly affected. USDA has not set a date for furloughs to begin, but insists they are unavoidable, according to Reuters.