One of the first big issues for former Iowa Governor and new U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is in his home state. Vilsack announced today that 19 employees at the U.S.D.A. laboratories in Ames have been suspended in an ongoing investigation. Vilsack explained the alleged wrongdoing of the employees.
He says they used veterinary credentials to purchase medications that normally would be used on animals, but were used by the employees, their families or their family pets. Vilsack says it allowed them to purchase non-narcotic medications such pain relievers, antibiotics, vitamins at a "substantial cost reduction."
Vilsack says the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the Office of Inspector General (OIG) have been investigating the claims against the employees. "This kind of conduct can’t be condoned, and so we’ve placed these employees on administrative leave pending a completion of this investigation," Vilsack says, "we’ve also ordered two independent reviews of the activities at the labs "to determine why it such conduct would be allowed to happen without significant checks to identify it immediately and why on the administrative side it went undetected, why so for a number of years, and if it was detected, why no action was taken before today."
Vilsack says privacy rules don’t allow them to release the names of the employees involved. The are three U.S.D.A. laboratories in Ames — the National Veterinary Services Laboratories and the Center for Veterinary Biologics, and the National Animal Disease Center. The labs conduct tests and research for animals across the country.
Vilsack says they believe the actions of the employees did not compromise any of the tests, and he says they have workers taking up the slack for the 19 people who have been suspended. Vilsack says the number of people involved is significant. Vilsack says there are over one-thousand employees working at the three labs, so 19 is a "significant" number, and he says there may be more employees involved as the investigation continues.
Vilsack just took over as Ag Secretary in January after being appointed by President Obama. He served two terms as governor of the state.