Hagen Addresses Furloughs at Subcommittee Hearing

Speaking to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture Wednesday - USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen explained that furloughs would be unavoidable under the projected sequestration scenario. She emphasized that all FSIS employees will be affected - not just frontline inspectors. Hagen said restricting furloughs to non-frontline personnel wouldn't generate a large enough cut to meet the projected sequestration target of 52.8-million dollars. Therefore - she said the current plan is for all employees - including federal meat inspectors - to be furloughed for 11 days. According to Hagen - FSIS will furlough all employees at once for industry fairness.

Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt of Alabama expressed hope that the challenges of sequestration could be met in a reasonable and responsible way - while minimizing the impact on frontline inspectors and industry. But Hagen said USDA lawyers have examined the meat inspection and sequester statutes and found no alternative to the furloughs planned. Reminded that FSIS has kept inspectors on the job during government shutdowns - Hagen said this situation is different. She said Congress doesn't plan to provide the agency the money that has been sequestered for this year - and is planning to maintain the cuts in future years.

Hagen said the furloughs will result in an enormous economic disruption - but said food safety is not an issue since meat that hasn't been inspected can't be sold.

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