The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will close district offices in Lawrence, KS; Beltsville, MD; Minneapolis, MN, Albany, NY; and Madison, WS.
The budgets cuts and consolidations, leaving 10 district offices open for business, are the FSIS contributions to planned USDA budget cuts totaling about $150 million, or about .1 percent of the giant farm and forest agency’s $150 billion annual budget.
FSIS says it is possible to consolidate the current 15 district offices into 10 because technology and work-share agreements are reducing the need for so many brick and mortar facilities. It wants to close the offices by the end of fiscal year 2013.
Dr. Richard Raymond, former Under Secretary for Food Safety from 2005-08, said the timing for such a move is right. “I would have liked to have done this, but had no political pressure (like budget cuts or Presidential mandates) to do it. This gives (FSIS Administrator) Al Almanza and (current USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety) Dr. Elisabeth Hagen the ability to select and keep in position their top 10 District Managers. Everyone knows a couple that need to be relieved of their duties.”
Also reacting to the budget announcement, Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of the food safety program for the advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, “According to a call we (were) on with FSIS, they are not laying off any of the employees in the 5 offices that (will be) shut. Secondly, no labs are involved. Finally, their time line for closing the offices is by the end of FY 13, which is longer than for some other programs.”
In addition to closing the five district offices, FSIS is looking to cut $750,000 in “lab supply management and sampling efficiencies.” It also plans to consolidate more than 700 existing cellphone plans into about 10 and standardize the purchase of cyber security products.
FSIS says millions of dollars will be saved by going to more centralized civil rights, human resource, procurement and property management functions “without sacrificing the quality of our work.”
Overall, the USDA cuts call for closing a total of 259 offices, facilities and labs in both the United States and in seven foreign countries. Many are small offices, with one or two people who are located within 20 miles of larger USDA offices. The rest of the plan for cost-saving will focus on technology improvements, often substituting broadband service for the need for brick and mortar facilities.
USDA also plans on using more advanced service centers. Outside of FSIS, among the other cuts planned by USDA include:
– Farm Service Agency (FSA): Consolidate 131 county offices in 32 states; more than 2,100 FSA offices will remain throughout the United States
– Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS): Close 2 country offices; more than 95 FAS offices will remain throughout the world.
– Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS): Close 15 APHIS offices in 11 states and 5 APHIS offices in 5 foreign countries; more than 560 APHIS offices remain throughout the United States and 55 will remain throughout the world.
– Rural Development (RD): Close 43 area and sub offices in 17 states and U.S. territories; approximately 450 RD offices will remain throughout the United States.
– Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS): Close 24 soil survey offices in 21 states; more than 2,800 NRCS offices will remain throughout the United States.
– Agricultural Research Service (ARS): Close 12 programs at 10 locations; more than 240 programs will remain throughout the United States.
– Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services (FNCS): Close 31 field offices in 28 states; 32 FNCS offices will remain throughout the United States.