On March 1, across-the-board spending cuts, known here in Washington as “the sequester,” took effect when Congress was unable to reach a new agreement on the budget. These cuts are required by law for every item within USDA’s budget, and they will impact all of the work we do in some way.
Under the Obama Administration, USDA already has made historic efforts to streamline operations and safeguard taxpayer dollars. Under our Blueprint for Stronger Service, we have carried out workforce reductions, closed offices and laboratories, and streamlined IT services. We have cut our travel costs by more than 42 percent since 2010. We’re always looking for new ways to save more.
These targeted efforts have already saved taxpayers more than $700 million. In fact, our operating budget today is lower than it was in 2009.
At the same time, we have achieved record results – record farm loans, record conservation efforts, record assistance for rural businesses, and much more. This was made possible by a concerted effort at every level of USDA to find smart, targeted, common-sense efficiencies.
The across-the-board sequester cuts limit our ability to achieve additional common-sense budget reductions. For example, USDA will be forced to carry out furloughs of food inspectors – an action that will force plant shutdowns and put a new strain on livestock producers.
As USDA moves forward to implement the sequester as required by Congress, I am committed to carrying out these cuts in a manner that is fair, and one that provides the least possible disruption for USDA’s customers. The indiscriminate nature of the sequester will make both of these goals difficult, but we take our work seriously. We are not going to let up in our efforts to strengthen the rural economy and build up new economic opportunity in rural America.
Rural America has momentum today, growing more food, more jobs, and more opportunity than ever before. The sequester threatens to deeply impact this progress. That’s why I hope that Congress will take action soon to avert these harmful cuts, and let us at USDA get back to finding common-sense budget reductions that have already saved hundreds of millions of dollars.