U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is addressing concerns about his agency’s plan to close nearly 260 USDA offices, labs and other facilities, including at least one in Nebraska.
Secretary Vilsack says the closures are in response to Congressional budget cuts, with the goal of trimming USDA expenses by $150 million a year.
Vilsack says 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.
He does not anticipate widespread layoffs as nearly 7,000 USDA 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 Nebraska, the so-called “Blueprint for Stronger Service” would close a Natural Resource Conservation Service office in Scotts Bluff.
Vilsack says public hearings will be held within 30 days in the counties where FSA offices are to be closed.