USDA dealing with shutdown repercussions

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2013 - Life at the USDA is slowly returning to normalcy today after the end to the historic 16-day federal government shutdown.

Still, as employees shuffle back into the department to deal with backlogged work, the status of some agency reports are in flux, while others have been cancelled.

USDA said Thursday the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and World Agricultural Outlook Board (WAOB) have “cancelled or postponed” publication of selected statistical reports impacted by the lapse in federal funding.

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NASS's Crop Production and Cotton Ginnings reports and the WAOB's World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) scheduled for Oct. 11 have been canceled. The next scheduled release date for those reports is Nov. 8.

Additionally, NASS's Crop Progress reports scheduled for Oct. 7 and Oct. 15 have been cancelled, USDA said. NASS's Cattle on Feed and Peanut Prices reports scheduled for Oct. 18 have been postponed.

“While the lapse in federal funding has ended, NASS has not been able to engage in the necessary data collection and analysis over the past few weeks,” the USDA said. “NASS is assessing its data collection plans and evaluating the timing of upcoming reports.”

A NASS official told Agri-Pulse it was unclear whether data required for next week's scheduled reports could be assembled in time for the regular release times.

Among key market-sensitive reports next week are Milk Production on Monday, Cold Storage on Tuesday and Livestock Slaughter on Thursday.

Another NASS source said the Oct. 21 Crop Progress report will be released on time.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) told stakeholders Thursday that its first priority is to reconnect with its customers whose business activities have been put on hold during the shutdown.

In a letter, APHIS administrator Kevin Shea said, “As much as we would like to, we can't make up for almost three weeks of missed work in just a day or two.”

Shea said APHIS will focus on what is most important for animal and plant health and animal welfare, and working with importers and exporters to process permit requests and health certificates.

“We simply ask for your patience as we work to address these critical needs as quickly as possible,” Shea said, noting that about half of the agency's approximate 8,000 employees were furloughed.

Erin Morris, acting head of public affairs at the Agricultural Marketing Service, said some of their Market News reports are being issued, but others are still being worked on.

“It's going to take us a little bit of time to get some of the other reports up,” Morris said. “We're still working on it. It's started. It's going to take us a couple of days to get everything in gear.”

The Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) is expected to issue an export sales report today. Then, the agency will issue an export sales report on Oct. 24, summarizing sales for the week ending Oct. 3, as well as final marketing year data for soybean meal, soybean oil, sunflower seed oil, cottonseed meal, and cottonseed oil.

The FAS said it will issue an export sales report on Oct. 31 that will include all sales reported from Oct. 4 to Oct. 24.

“Both reports (on Oct. 24 and Oct. 31) will highlight sales that occurred during the federal government shutdown that were of a quantity that would have resulted in a daily announcement,” FAS said.

Brian K. Mabry, acting coordinator at USDA's Office of Communications, said the Farm Service Agency is in the process of an orderly start-up of farm program and farm loan activities for FY 2014.

“We realize that the temporary lapse in service has created a backlog in requests and service delivery needs,” Mabry said. “We are committed to a proactive and customer-focused approach to prioritize activities so that we can provide the service our customers expect and deserve as quickly as possible. We encourage producers to contact their local FSA office if they have any questions or need additional information.”

Meanwhile, for those seeking lunch at the USDA, the cafeteria now has hot food and most of its options available to the hungry.

Updated 1:35 p.m. Oct. 18.

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