USDA says furloughs not expected

Monday - 5/6/2013, 3:57pm EDT

Furloughs at the Agriculture Department are looking increasingly unlikely following Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's request to shift funding and the department's ongoing efforts to find alternative cost savings.

A USDA spokeswoman confirmed last week that the department wouldn't have to furlough employees in either the Farm Service Agency or the department's Rural Development division.

"At this point we do not expect furloughs at USDA," the spokeswoman said.

Officials at the Farm Service Agency froze hiring and ordered cuts to discretionary spending, such as operating expenses and contract spending, the spokeswoman confirmed.

Vilsack used what is known as interchange transfer authority — which allows the head of agency to shift as much as 7 percent of spending among certain accounts, with congressional approval — to avoid furloughs in the department's Rural Development division

Overall, USDA was on the hook for $2 billion in sequestration cuts, with about two-thirds coming from discretionary spending.

Earlier this year, Congress approved a 2013 appropriations bill that averted furloughs at the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Otherwise, food inspectors would have faced 11 furlough days.

Just a few months ago, USDA officials had warned sequestration-furloughs would likely affect a third of the department's workforce.

USDA has cut more than $828 million from its bottom line since 2009, which the agency said, put it in a better position to implement the sequestration cuts.

(Web editor Michael O'Connell contributed to the reporting of this story.)

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