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Amendment would protect essential service from cuts





By CAROL RYAN DUMAS



Capital Press






Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, is cosponsoring an amendment that will give federal agencies the flexibility they claim they don't have under the budget sequestration to provide vital services, such as meat inspections, control tower operations and border security.



The amendment applies the same standards used during occurrences of other government shutdowns and inclement weather to the sequestration cuts for each agency.



"When governors of either party are faced with a fiscal shortfall in their state, they work to mitigate the budget cuts from impacting the most essential services. They do not look for ways to make it harder on their citizens," Risch said in a press release on Friday.



USDA has drawn fire on its plan to furlough meat inspectors. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he has no choice as the Budget Control Act of 2011 requiring the sequester included no exemption for essential employees such as FSIS inspectors.



USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety Elizabeth Hagen reiterated that to the House Ag Appropriations Committee last week. She has proposed a furloughing meat inspectors on the same days for 11 nonconsecutive days, likely beginning in mid-July.



The amendment, introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., will give federal agencies the flexibility to deal with the cuts spending required by sequestration rather than applying across-the-board cuts, Risch said.



"We can find ways to implement 2.4 percent in spending cuts without compromising private sector job creation or national security," Blunt said in a press release.



The amendment:



* Defines essential employees using the Office of personnel Management's April 2011 shutdown guidance: an employee that performs work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, as determined by the head of the agency.



* Provides agencies with funding flexibility so essential services are maintained while non-essential employees are furloughed.



* Ensures that transfers can only be made within agencies to maintain essential employees and may not increase funding for any other purpose.



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