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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 03/07/2013

Sequester requires tight rein on travel

Sequester concerns have led to eagle-eye scrutiny of possible wasteful spending by agencies on conferences and on government officials’ travel to gabfests here and abroad.

So a couple of conferences involving the Department of Agriculture (USDA) naturally raised some eyebrows on the Hill.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) fired off a letter to Secretary Tom Visack asking about one next week in Fresno, Calif. and another in Corvallis, Ore. in April that featured fine wine tasting.

The letter, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, asked Vilsack whether, given administration talk of cutting food safety inspectors, he might want to cancel the two outings and use that money for inspectors.

We checked with Agriculture, which is putting together a formal response to Coburn’s concerns, and were told there may be a bit less here than meets the eye.

For one thing, the department is not sponsoring the Corvallis gathering and wants the sponsors to remove the agency logo from the Web site.

In addition, the farmers attending the “Small Farm Conference” in Fresno are paying for the wine themselves and apparently no one from headquarters is going out to speak. It would be local USDA folks who would speak at the conference.

The department did give California a $35,000 grant in 2010 and another $25,000 last year for the conference, but that was a block grant supervised by the state. In any event, the money’s gone and, even if it weren’t, the law doesn’t allow such a move.

Well, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on these things.

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 03/07/2013

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