Coburn tells USDA: Stop wine tasting, save jobs

Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michal Conger

The U.S. Department of Agriculture should put food tasting on hold for a while and focus on food inspection, Sen. Tom Coburn said in a letter to Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even as the USDA is warning that sequestration could mean employee furloughs and more salmonella in your peanut butter, several of its departments are sponsoring conferences in the next month that will feature field trips and wine, beer and food tastings.

“While these conferences may be fun, interesting and even education get aways for department employees, food inspecting rather than food tasting should be USDA’s priority at this time,” Coburn wrote to Vilsack yesterday.

At next week’s conference in sunny California, employees will enjoy field trips and tastings from local farmers, wineries, breweries and bakeries. And next month’s conference in Oregon will also feature wine tasting. These are, understandably, the “most well attended”  networking events at these annual conferences.

In light of the sequester and an Office of Management and Budget’s directive that departments scrutinize their expenses, Coburn asked Vilsack to inform him whether the department would be canceling its participation in upcoming conferences.

If not, Coburn directed Vilsack to report how many employees will attend and how much conferences will cost for sponsorship, attendance and other support. He requested answers by March 11.

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