The Agriculture Department does not fund or host either of two conferences a Republican lawmaker highlighted as an example of potential agency savings to avoid employee furloughs, USDA officials have said.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in the most recent in a string of letters sent to the Obama administration regarding sequestration, pointed to the Priester Health Extension Conference and the California Small Farm Conference as areas of lavish spending that should be cut before workers were forced to take unpaid leave.
“While these conferences may be fun, interesting and even educational getaways for department employees, food inspecting rather than food tasting should be USDA’s priority at this time,” Coburn wrote in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
An Agriculture spokeswoman said USDA does not provide financial support for the Priester conference and the department has asked organizers to remove its logo from the event’s website. While Agriculture has provided support through programs that aid small farmers, it is not a host of the California conference and the event is not for USDA employees.
Attendees who wish to attend the event’s wine tasting -- which Coburn highlighted in his letter -- pay their own way.
Coburn’s office took credit for USDA distancing itself for the conferences and said other agencies should follow suit.
“We applaud USDA's decision to withdraw its support for the wine tasting conference it previously posted on its website but later removed,” said John Hart, a spokesman for the senator. “USDA's flexibility demonstrates that other agencies do, in fact, have the authority to make smart cuts that will not undermine the health and safety of the American people.”
This story was updated to add comment from Sen. Coburn's office.