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Sen. Tom Coburn says the USDA should focus on more urgent services

The Oklahoma senator told the agriculture secretary the USDA shouldn't be attending conferences in California and Oregon while it's warning about furloughing food inspectors to deal with spending cuts
by Chris Casteel Published: March 6, 2013
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— Sen. Tom Coburn sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak on Tuesday asking him to cancel conferences in California and Oregon to save money for more vital needs because of spending cuts that took effect last week.

While the Agriculture Department is warning it will have to furlough food inspectors and the public could suffer more illnesses, some of its agencies are planning a California Small Farm Conference next week and a health conference in Oregon next month, Coburn said in his letter to Vilsak.

The conferences include food and wine tasting activities, Coburn noted.

“While these conferences may be fun, interesting and even educational getaways for department employees, food inspecting rather than food tasting should be USDA's priority at this time,” Coburn said in his letter.

Coburn, R-Muskogee, asked Vilsak for the total costs to the department of the conferences and to provide him with a list of other conferences planned by the USDA.

“USDA has aggressively managed travel, conference and administrative costs to achieve $700 million in new efficiencies, savings, and cost avoidances during the last three fiscal years,” a spokesperson said.

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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