U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is addressing concerns about his agency’s plan to close 259 U.S.D.A. offices, labs and other facilities. Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, told reporters in a teleconference today that the closures are in response to Congressional budget cuts.
The goal is to trim U.S.D.A. expenses by $150 million a year. Vilsack said the plan involves $90 million in savings through reduced travel and supplies. The office and lab closures would account for the remaining $60 million in savings.
Vilsack does not anticipate widespread layoffs as nearly 7,000 U.S.D.A. employees took early retirement last year and many workers will be given the opportunity to transfer to other offices. Critics of the plan have raised concerns about the possible effect on food safety.
“I want to be very clear about this – the office closings we announced in the food safety area are about administrative personnel. They are not about inspectors,” Vilsack said. “We did not deal with the inspector issue at all. We’re still going to be in every single plant. The inspectors will continue to do the work that they’re doing in those plants and it will have no impact whatsoever on our responsibility to ensure the safety of the food supply in the United States.”
In Iowa, the so-called “Blueprint for Stronger Service” would close three Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices in Appanoose, Decatur and Union Counties. In addition, a Natural Resource Conservation Service office in Jefferson County would be shut down.
Vilsack said public hearings will be held within 30 days in the counties where FSA offices are to be closed.