During a House Agriculture Committee hearing Tuesday, several committee members quizzed Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack about how much flexibility he has in implementing automatic budget cuts set forth under sequestration-especially in programs that are considered "essential", such as USDA meat inspections.
Vilsack said there is no flexibility in the cuts.
"The sequester, the way it's structured, requires every account to be reduced by the same percentage amount-and in the food safety area, there are very few accounts," Vilsack said. "Eighty-seven percent of the budget is front-line inspectors and the support system for those front-line inspectors.
"I have to be truthful with this committee, based on the way the sequestration is structured, it will impact food inspection."
Committee ranking member Collin Peterson of Minnesota asked Vilsack, if Congress were to give him more flexibility, whether he could diminish the potential impact of the meat inspector furloughs.
"We would obviously recognize the important role of `mission first' and we would do everything we could to make sure that the most important missions were completed and done," Vilsack said. "We don't have that capacity today. That's why this is, I think, recognized by all as bad policy."
There has been talk in Congress of giving the Pentagon more leeway in apportioning automatic budget cuts-and possibly doing the same for other agencies.