Our VoiceHealth & Environment

USDA’s Blueprint for Stronger Service Budget Cuts Hurt the Heartland

Charlotte Williams • Feb 14, 2012

Photo: USDAgov's Flickr page

The United States Agriculture Department (USDA) and Secretary Tom Vilsack have been busy the past couple of months shopping their budget and staff reduction package, Blueprint for Stronger Service, which is purported to assist industry producers and move our economy along.

“You know and I know the time has come to get our country’s fiscal house in order, and that requires tough calls and tough choices,” Vilsack said in his January 2012 speech in Hawaii.

The “Blueprint” streamlines USDA operations and aligns the USDA with the Obama administration’s push to reduce costs and make the government operate more efficiently. In his USDA website bio, Vilsack states he plans to “turn around the economy and put American back to work” and to “create jobs and build a foundation for the future.” Yet, his “tough” decisions to make these budget cuts come at the expense of hardworking, underrepresented, and vulnerable people at the nation’s heartland─rural America.

The cuts don’t help an already overworked agency and the already negatively impacted lives of farmers, growers, workers, and many others at multiple levels within the agricultural industry. The timing is just bad as the agency finds itself in the throes of trying to pass a sorely deficient 2012 Farm Bill, which includes federal funding of the much needed food assistance programs, as unemployment rates remain high. What makes the USDA cuts as outrageous as they are suspect is that a 2010 joint project yielded significant information and political posturing, as the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division and the USDA held five public hearings examining competition issues and the appropriate role for antitrust and regulatory enforcement in the agriculture industry.

A major focus of the hearings, the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) recently released the final version of its new antitrust rule intended to regulate the marketing of meat and poultry. However, it now appears that the big talk and big spending regarding GIPSA was merely a ruse to misinform and redirect the debate on key legislation aimed at one of the largest industries in the US. According to RFD-TV, Rural America’s Most Important Network, changing GIPSA rules are critical as no other issue in the past 20 years “has internally roiled the industry to the extent this issue has over the past 18 months.”

Industry experts are shocked at what they term being “back where we started,” as the USDA has rejected sweeping changes as proposed in June 2010. Not surprising, the USDA announced it is still considering, i.e. delaying, finalization of other measures in the proposed regulations. These core sections of the rule will therefore have to be revised and issued as new proposed rules─starting the long rule-making process all over. Again.

It appears big government has the hiccups. Again.

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