January 17, 2018

Sequester Will Lead to Meat Inspector Furloughs

The Agriculture’s Undersecretary for Food Safety, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, said that there will be 11 days of unpaid leave required of food inspectors to meet the budget cuts that were imposed as part of the sequester on March 1, 2013. She spoke at the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on March 13, 2013. The furloughs will start in July and will continue through September 30, 2013. On those days, meatpacking plants will have to shut down.

The cut that the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will have to absorb is 5% of its $1 billion budget. But the effect is larger because all of the cuts have to be taken out of the last half or even the last quarter of the fiscal year, which ends September 30. And 87% of the FSIS budget is personnel costs.

Some have proposed rolling furloughs, but that was rejected because government officials think that would give some markets an advantage over others, which would be unfair. Dr. Hagen said, “to the extent that we are able, we intend to spread these furlough days out over non-consecutive days. At this point, we are looking at furloughing everybody on the same day.”

In addition to these furloughs, more than 150 jobs at FSIS have been eliminated over the past several years due to budget cuts, and that hiring for administrative jobs has been reduced. These support positions are important to the inspection process because of the detailed record-keeping essential to inspections. In addition, lab technicians will be furloughed.

Despite questions from Republican Kevin Yoder, asking why inspectors cannot be designated “essential employees”, not subject to the sequester, Hagen said that the federal government can’t make people work without pay. Congress has no plan to make up the budget cuts. She added that the agency “can’t spend money that we don’t have and we still have to operate within fiscal law.”  And she said that USDA’s lawyers did not find an alternative for this plan after examining the statutes for meat inspection.

Comments

  1. These furloughs could be diverted if USDA only furlough non-field DC base personne and DO personnel; starting in April. In addtion, reduce their perks such as travel, equipment, parking, cars. The DC personnel salaries are the largest for any of state FSIS personnel: yes DC is not a state.Plus their are vacanies not being filled so those salaries are saving money too. USDA is putting their worst face forward to scarce the public.

    • Linda Larsen says:

      That is not true. Non-field personnel are needed to record the many details involved in an inspection. And how are inspectors supposed to travel to facilities if their travel and car expenses are reduced or cut? Vacancies are not being filled because of budget cuts; there isn’t money floating around to pay workers. And since Congress has not made any plans whatsoever to cover the budget cuts, inspectors would be forced to work without being paid. Slavery is illegal. And finally, the American public needs to wake up about this issue. Across-the-board budget cuts were completely unnecessary, since Congress simply failed to do its duty. This is the result of an intransigent party.

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