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Food safety sequestration impact months away

Before FSIS furloughs negotiations have to go through several steps meaning halts may not come until later this spring.

With no sequestration fix deal in sight ahead of the March 1 date to institute cuts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it is taking steps to minimize the impact of the furloughs on consumers, employees and the meat industry, however, "there is no question sequestration will have an adverse impact on food inspection services."

Earlier this month livestock groups and the American Meat Institute called on USDA to find ways to furlough non-front line FSIS staff to avoid the economic fallout that could occur if inspections couldn't occur. Earlier this week several Republican senators asked similar questions, stating that other USDA employees instead should be furloughed.

Courtney Rowe, USDA spokesperson, explained you just can't take funding from another pot of money. Approximately 80% of FSIS's budget is personnel, and 88% of personnel are inspectors, she said.

"We've done the math as many ways as we can and any scenario requires furloughs of inspectors." 

Rowe said that the timing of the furloughs remains unknown. All FSIS employees must be given at least 30 days written notice and for many employees these must be hand-delivered as they do not have access to official government email or computers. 

In addition, all FSIS bargaining unit employees are afforded the right to an oral conference with Agency administration prior to the furlough taking effect. Finally, FSIS is mandated to engage in negotiations with the Agency’s bargaining unit prior to the implementation of an anticipated furlough.

"Having over 8,000 frontline and 1000 non-frontline employees spread across the country covering and supporting about 6,263 establishments, and 150,000 in commerce facilities makes delivery of notices, coordination of oral conferences and other negotiations complex and time consuming," USDA said.

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