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Published September 30, 2013, 04:39 PM

A guide to the government shutdown at USDA

If the U.S. Department of Agriculture shuts down at midnight tonight, food stamp benefits will be delivered for the month of October, forest fires will continue to be fought, meat and poultry will still be inspected, grain inspection will continue, laboratory animals will be fed and the rural development division will still monitor government loans.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

If the U.S. Department of Agriculture shuts down at midnight tonight, food stamp benefits will be delivered for the month of October, forest fires will continue to be fought, meat and poultry will still be inspected, grain inspection will continue, laboratory animals will be fed and the rural development division will still monitor government loans.

But USDA will not release any new production statistics, most of the rest of USDA will shut down and its website may go dark.

The situation at the Agricultural Marketing Service is complicated because some AMS programs are funded through user fees and will continue to operate, while others are funded through appropriations and will not.

USDA mission areas varied in the detail of their shutdown plans, however.

All USDA employees will be furloughed — put on temporary leave — except those who have “excepted” status because “they are performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property or performing certain other types of excepted work.”

Agency legal counsels, working with senior agency managers, determine which employees are designated to handle “excepted” and “non-excepted” functions,” according to the USDA shutdown plan.

If the shutdown takes place, the guidance to employees says that all non-excepted employees will be expected to report to work on Tuesday “for the sole purpose of engaging in orderly shutdown activities.”

“Supervisors will provide employees with instructions to shut down their activities and secure property in their offices, leave out-of-office phone and email messages, complete timesheets, etc.,” the document says. “Excepted employees should be instructed to report for work and to perform their excepted activities as required. For those teleworking, ‘report’ may be done by telephone.”

“Employees are required to report for duty on their flexible work day if it is the day before an anticipated lapse in appropriations to conduct an orderly shutdown of their work even if it is their flexible work day and they were not scheduled to come to report for duty.”

In most cases, the guidance says, furloughed employees should take no more than three or four hours to “provide necessary notices and contact information, secure their files, complete time and attendance records, and otherwise make preparations to preserve their work.”

But some agencies have said it will take several days to complete an orderly shutdown.

USDA may not accept the services of any employees who volunteer to do their jobs without pay during the furlough, the guidance says, because “the Antideficiency Act prohibits agencies from accepting voluntary labor for services that are not essential, vital to the protection of life and property, during a shutdown. Federal officials or employees who violate rules can be fined up to $5,000 or sent to prison for two years.”

Office of the Secretary

Nineteen people in Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s office will be excepted from furlough status, including Vilsack himself. The others are Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, Vilsack’s Chief of Staff Brian Baenig, two deputy chiefs of staff to Vilsack, Harden’s acting chief of staff, the seven undersecretaries, three assistant secretaries, the deputy undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, one senior budget adviser and the director for scheduling.

Employees in the secretary’s office on furlough status will not be allowed to communicate using handheld electronic devices including smartphones.

Agricultural Marketing Service

AMS will be partially open. The following programs will continue to be operated because they are not funded through appropriations:

Cotton classing

Cotton standards

Tobacco inspection

Dairy grading

Milk market administration

Specialty crops inspection

Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act

Cattle futures

Meat grading

Seed inspection trust (excluding appropriated Federal Seed Act activities)

Poultry grading

Laboratory services

Plant variety protection

Commodity purchase services

Research and promotion programs

The following programs, normally operated by 424 employees, will not operate because they are funded through appropriations:

Country-of-origin labeling

Federal seed

Market news

Marketing agreements and orders

National Organic Standards Program

Pesticide Data Program

Pesticide recordkeeping

Shell egg surveillance

Standardization

Transportation and market development

Specialty crop block grant administration

Payments to states

Compliance Direct

Market news support

Regulatory review

In addition some administrative functions funded through a combination of appropriated and non-appropriated funds will be subject to a “partial furlough.”

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

APHIS’s shutdown report does not identify what functions, if any, will continue to operate.

Farm Service Agency

FSA will close down all offices, including county offices, except for emergency and natural disasters response. The agency can continue to use “remaining discretionary prior year unobligated balances (carryover, within authorized apportionment unless the debt ceiling is reached)” and user fees collected under the U.S. Warehouse Act.

Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services

This department will continue to provide funding for some anti-hunger programs but not others.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will continue operations and eligible households will still receive monthly benefits for October. The authority to make October benefit payments comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, through which Congress provided “such sums as are necessary” to finance SNAP.

In addition, about $2 billion in contingency funding will be available and could be used to support state administrative activities essential to continue the program and issue benefits. These contingency funds were provided in the fiscal year 2013 appropriation and do not expire until the end of fiscal year 2014.

No additional federal funds will be available to support the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)’s clinical services, food benefits and administrative costs. States may have some funds available from infant formula rebates or other sources, including spend-forward authority, to continue operations for a week or so, but states would likely be unable to sustain operations for a longer period. Contingency funds will be available to help states — but even this funding would not fully mitigate a shortfall for the entire month of October.

The child nutrition programs, including school lunch, school breakfast, child and adult care feeding, summer food service and special milk will continue into October. Meal providers are paid on a reimbursement basis 30 days after the end of the service month. Limited carryover funding will be available during a lapse to support fiscal year 2014 meal service.

“Once an appropriation is enacted, we expect additional resources will be available to reimburse October performance,” the guidance states. “In addition, most state agencies will continue to have fiscal year 2013 funds available for State Administrative Expenses (SAE). SAE funds are awarded to states for a two-year grant period and they are permitted to carryover up to 20 percent of their allocation into the second year of the grant period.”

No additional federal funds will be available to support the Commodity Assistance Programs including the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, The Emergency Food Assistance Program administrative funding, and the WIC Farmers’ Markets Nutrition Program.

Similarly, no new funds will be available to support the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. While there will be some inventory available for use in food packages, no carryover, contingency or other funds will be available to support continued operations.

Food Safety and Inspection Service

Meat, poultry and egg product inspections will continue, and 87 percent of the agency’s 9,633 employees will be still on the job.

Foreign Agricultural Service

About 404 of the agency’s 944 U.S. and foreign national employees are expected to remain on the job but the situation is complicated by the fact that FAS officers are posted worldwide.

Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration

GIPSA will continue to provide inspection and weighing services that are supported by user fees.

Of the 743 total GIPSA employees, 528 will stay on the job, including 100 positions that are partially funded by user fees. These positions will work each day in accordance with their user fee funding.

The 528 positions also include 149 full-time intermittent employees. These employees are necessary during this time of season to support GIPSA grain and related commodity inspection and weighing program activities.

The remaining 215 GIPSA positions will be subject to furlough in accordance with this plan.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

All activities will cease except for the protection of life and property.

Research, Education and Economics

This mission area, which includes the Agricultural Research Service, Economic Research Service, National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture will care for animals, plants and associated infrastructure to protect federal government property but the following activities will not take place:

•Market news reports, NASS statistics, and other agricultural economic and statistical reports and projections.

•Research, except for the care for animals, plants and associated infrastructure.

•Provision of new grants or processing of payments for existing grants to support research, education, and extension.

•ERS Commodity Outlook Reports, Data Products, research reports, staff analysis, and projections. The ERS public website would be taken offline.

Risk Management

Closed. “There will be no activities continued. There will be no employees reporting to work.”

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