Michael Young, director of USDA's Office of Budget and Program Analysis, said the agency has limited authority to transfer up to 7 percent of money within an agency. (Mike Morones/Federal Times)
The Agriculture Department told lawmakers Tuesday that there is little it can do to avoid painful furloughs of food safety inspectors and other employees due to the sequester’s budget cuts.
USDA is planning to furlough about 9,800 Food Safety and Inspection Service employees for 11 days to help it deal with $2 billion in budget cuts over the next seven months. In all, USDA will likely furlough 34,000 employees for up to 15 days.
Michael Young, director of USDA’s Office of Budget and Program Analysis, said the agency has limited authority to transfer up to 7 percent of money within an agency. The Farm Service Agency may be able to use that authority to move money between several farm programs to avoid disruptions, Young said.
However, Young said, other agencies within USDA may not be able to use that flexibility. FSIS, for example, has no other accounts from which to transfer funds to lessen the pain from budget cuts and avert furloughs, Young said.
Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce also accused the Obama administration of hyping the dire consequences of the sequester.
“With the sequester now upon us, some of the administration’s spending choices make no sense,” subcommittee Chairman Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said. “The only conclusion I can draw is the president wants to politicize the sequester and make the cuts as painful as possible. Rather than looking for waste, fraud and abuse, we have furloughs.”
And Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the full committee, blasted USDA and other agencies for not responding to a Feb. 28 letter asking them to identify wasteful or duplicative programs that could be cut to mitigate the sequester’s effects.
“I could draw up a bill in an hour, and demand that my leadership immediately consider ones that narrowed specifically toward areas of waste,” Issa said.
But Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., said agencies have no choice but to enact the cuts essentially equally.
“Federal agencies cannot selectively choose which programs or functions to fund, or not fund, violating the Budget Control Act’s requirement of across-the-board cuts,” Cartwright said. “Only explicit congressional action can avoid the widespread consequences from the implementation of across-the-board cuts.”
Issa also criticized agencies for waiting to start drawing up plans for cutting $85 billion until the White House explicitly ordered them to begin preparing.