Senator to USDA: Cancel Wine Tastings Before Furloughing Food Inspectors

Chiyacat/Shutterstock.com

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has called for the Agriculture Department to cut conference spending to avoid employee furloughs, the latest in a series of suggestions stemming from the lawmaker’s ongoing effort to “prioritize” sequestration cuts.

Coburn pointed to two conferences in particular -- the California Small Farm Conference and the Priester National Extension Health Conference in Oregon -- as examples of wasteful spending that should not survive sequestration cuts.

“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.

The ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee highlighted certain activities on the conferences’ agendas -- such as a “tasting reception” featuring “exceptional local wines, brews and spirit” -- to demonstrate the events’ excesses.

The Office of Management and Budget has previously stated employees at the Food Safety and Inspection Service -- a division of Agriculture -- would be furloughed under sequestration, leading to temporary closures of food manufacturing plants that cannot legally operate without regular inspections.

Coburn has written several letters to various agencies, seeking to identify alternative cuts to avoid forced, unpaid leave for federal employees. Pentagon officials have said his ideas do not go far enough and called civilian furloughs “necessary.”

The Agriculture Department said it has already taken steps to reduce its conference expenditures.

“USDA has been aggressively managing travel and conference costs for the last several years to achieve savings,” a department spokesperson said. “As a result of this, and other efficiency initiatives, the Department has achieved over $700 million in efficiencies, savings, and cost avoidances during the last three fiscal years.”

Even if USDA were to cancel the conferences, sequestration prohibits Agriculture from shifting funds from the various sub-agencies that sponsor the events -- such as Rural Development and Agricultural Marketing Service -- to the FSIS, as Coburn recommends. 

(Image via Chiyacat/Shutterstock.com)

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.