USDA to close 259 offices to save $150M

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture will close 259 domestic offices, labs and other facilities as part of an effort to save $150 million per year, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday.

While the closures and other cost-cutting steps will affect the USDA headquarters in Washington and operations in 46 states, the savings will be relatively small in the context of the agency’s $145 billion budget.

The closures follow a review of USDA operations done as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to cut waste, Vilsack said.

“We must innovate, modernize and be better stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars,” he said in a prepared statement released before his spoke to the American Farm Bureau Federation in Honolulu.

The USDA did not immediately provide details on which offices would be closed or whether employees would be laid off, but Andrew Lorenz, deputy district manager for USDA’s food safety and inspection office in Minneapolis, estimated 12 to 14 of the 16 people in his office would lose their jobs when it closed.

He said he was surprised the USDA was shutting down so many offices that handle food inspections in one region, with additional closures in Madison, Wis., and Lawrence, Kan.

“They wiped out the entire Midwest,” Lorenz said.

Food safety offices in Chicago and Des Moines remain open.

Some closures had already been announced.

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