Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., did an extraordinary job on working together on a budget plan. Vilsack wants Congress to take note and do the same along with seeing the good faith work of the Agriculture Committees.
"And embrace that number as a reasonable contribution by USDA in addition to the $4 billion that we've already contributed and in addition to the $3 billion cut we've seen in our operation budget," Vilsack said. "It's going to be important for Congress essentially to make a decision about what the number actually is. Then it will be important to distribute the reductions across the programs in a proportional and fair way."
The USDA has already seen budget cuts that lead to office closings and consolidations. However, Vilsack says connecting rural communities to the internet will remain a priority.
"We'll continue to expand broadband as we've done," Vilsack said. "We have over 300 broadband projects that are in the process of expanding access to broadband to seven million Americans, 325,000 small businesses, and it will provide many more farmers and ranchers more access to broadband."
Vilsack says USDA also is looking at new technologies to make it easier and less expensive to expand access to broadband in the future.
There has been some concern expressed by the agriculture industry about some of the office closures that have been made, such as USDA consolidating 15 Food Safety and Inspection Service district offices into 10 by the end of Fiscal Year 2013 under the new blueprint for FSIS that was announced last week. However, Food Safety Under Secretary Dr. Elisabeth Hagen says the safety of the U.S. meat, poultry and egg supply won't be diminished.
"There is no risk to food safety here at all, I think some of the initial reports out there suggested by going from 15 offices to 10 that we would have less inspection going on or that we would have fewer inspectors on the job and that is just absolutely not true," Hagen said. "All of our inspectors will still be out there doing the really important work that they do every single day; inspecting food, taking samples, all of that kind of work that continues on and just the lines of reporting and administrative support for that happens in a fewer number of offices."
Hagen says the consolidation effort is about improving technologies and customer service. She says everything USDA does is about consumer protection and the consolidation won't put consumers at risk.