*UPDATED WITH USDA STATEMENT*
A leaked email from a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service field office is in the news today as evidence that the Obama administration wants to make the sequester cuts “as painful as possible.”
According to the email, the USDA budget office directed the APHIS field office regarding flexibility of spending cuts for aquaculture, “However you manage that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be.” USDA had previously told Congress that APHIS would “eliminate assistance to producers in 24 states in managing wildlife damage to the aquaculture industry” without additional funds.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was questioned about that email by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) during a House Agriculture Committee hearing yesterday. “Mr. Secretary, I’m very concerned about that last line,” said Noem, who read the email to the committee. “Is it the policy of your department to not use any flexibility that you may have in managing the sequester?”
“No,” Vilsack responded. “If we have flexibility, we’re going to try to use it to make sure we use sequester in the most equitable and least disruptive way.” He added that in the case of meat inspectors, for example, he has less flexibility.
Noem stressed that her concern is that the administration not have an agenda that “prioritizes staying consistent” with what was previously said, rather than looking at “reductions we have to deal with and do them in the best manner possible to make sure that we protect the industry and as many producers as we can.”
Listen to the exchange between Noem and Vilsack here: House Ag Hearing 3/5/13
USDA released the following statement to clarify context of leaked email.
Several reports yesterday misrepresented a USDA effort to explain the impacts of budget cuts to an employee in USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Here are the facts: Recently, a member of the APHIS field staff suggested to the agency’s budget officers that budget cuts in the APHIS Wildlife Services program could be spread out across 24 states in a particular region in order to avoid furloughs. The budget officers explained that the employee’s suggestion had already been communicated to Congress as part of the Administration’s FY2013 budget proposal and will be included as part of the sequestration plan. To be clear, the APHIS budget officer explained that USDA is already proposing these steps in order to avoid furloughs. USDA is committed to doing all we can to minimize the impact of sequester our employees and the farmers, ranchers, and rural communities we serve.