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Latham and other subcommittee members repeatedly asked why FSIS could not designate inspectors as essential personnel not subject to the sequester. The federal government has used that method to keep employees on the job when Congress was at an impasse on budgets, they said.
Hagen said in that scenario there is the expectation that Congress will eventually provide funding to cover salaries. Under the sequester, money is taken away from the agency. By law, she said, the federal government cannot require people to work without pay or to spend money it does not have.
That prompted Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., to ask what FSIS would do if Congress passed legislation requiring the agency to keep meat inspectors on the job as essential workers. Yoder appeared to be alluding to language Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has said he plans to offer as an amendment to the Senate continuing resolution (HR 933) that would deem inspectors as essential personnel.
“We can’t have the flow of beef not being processed in a timely manner, and this is going to cause unforeseen consequences in the economy. You have to find a way to do it,” Yoder said.
“If Congress told us that we had to do something, we’d do what we’re authorized to do,” Hagen said. “We still can’t spend money that we don’t have. We still have to operate within fiscal law.”
Aderholt asked whether Hagen had sought to have FSIS included among the budget anomalies, or special exceptions, the White House submitted for appropriators to consider as they wrote a continuing resolution to fund government programs after the current CR (PL 112-175) expires March 27. Hagen said she had not.
After the hearing, Aderholt said he found Hagen’s response to that question interesting.
“I think that would have been an important aspect of trying to move forward, especially knowing that the Senate was working on a CR,” Aderholt said.
An anomaly would allow the department to move money “over to an area of greater concern. Certainly front-line inspection is of concern to everyone. The department and we understand the importance of food safety and how the public looks at it. I think it would be appropriate, under the circumstances that sequestration is an unusual thing we’re dealing with, to give them that flexibility.”