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P&S the 'great pretender'

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Econ101

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P&S the ‘great pretender’



Report: USDA Only Pretended to Do Probes

By LIBBY QUAID , 01.18.2006

Forbes



The Agriculture Department has pretended to investigate anticompetitive behavior among stockyards and meat companies since 1999, but in hundreds of cases hasn't actually filed complaints, says an audit released Wednesday.



Senior officials blocked investigations from being referred to department lawyers, who can file complaints or refer cases to the Justice Department, according to the audit by the agency's inspector general.



In the meantime, employees were told to create the appearance of a high rate of enforcement by logging routine letters and reviews of public data as investigations, the inspector general said.



"Competition and complex investigations were not being performed, and timely action was not being taken," the audit said.



As of last August, 50 investigations were being held up by deputy administrator JoAnn Waterfield, who had final say over sending cases to department lawyers. Waterfield quit abruptly last month without giving a reason.



Waterfield reprimanded one regional office last year because it didn't count routine correspondence as an investigation. After being chided, the east region climbed from last to first among the three regions by reclassifying more than 300 routine activities as investigations.



Department officials acknowledged the problems but said they're being fixed.



"Of course I was bothered," said James E. Link, the new administrator of the Grain Inspection, Stockyards and Packers Administration. "When I came here, I didn't know the agency had those internal problems. You can't fix a problem till you know you have it."



Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who sought the audit, said top officials were blocking investigations "and then cooking the books to cover up the agency's lack of enforcement."



"America's producers have faced an increasingly integrated and consolidated market, but in the past five years, USDA has made virtually no attempt to investigate or take action against unfair and anticompetitive market behavior," said Harkin, senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee.



The report didn't give a reason for the lack of action, but Link said he didn't think employees deliberately tried to inflate their numbers. He said employees have told him they were frustrated with management and felt they couldn't do their jobs.



"I think there was a lot of misunderstanding between headquarters and field offices as to what really constituted investigations," he said.



While anticompetitive complaints have not been initiated since 1999, officials said there have been complaints involving financial and trade practices. There were 104 financial or trade cases referred to department lawyers from 2003 through 2005. There have been three more since Jan. 1, and several more referrals are expected in the next few days, officials said.



Under the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act, the department is charged with investigating unfairness, deception and practices that inhibit competition in livestock, meatpacking and poultry trade.



With about 150 employees and a budget last year of $19.5 million, the Packers and Stockyards Program regulates a livestock industry worth about $120 billion.



Source: Associated Press

forbes.com



USDA P&S ‘cooks the books’

Report: USDA staff inflated probe count

Recent changes will include a definition of what an investigation should entail.



By PHILIP BRASHER

DES MOINES REGISTER WASHINGTON BUREAU

January 19, 2006

Des Moines, Iowa

US



Washington, D.C. — The government officials who regulate competition among stockyards and meatpackers inflated the number of their investigations by counting routine actions such as writing letters, auditors say.



A report released Wednesday by the Agriculture Department's inspector general cited USDA staff as saying that monitoring activities were counted as investigations because those were the only types of actions being approved.



Among other things, the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration is supposed to investigate complaints that packers are restricting competition or manipulating prices. The agency also must assure that livestock sellers are paid promptly.



The report shows that USDA officials "were blocking employees from pursuing investigations and then cooking the books to cover up the agency's lack of enforcement action," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia.



Mergers in the packing industry mean there are fewer places for livestock producers to sell their cattle and hogs, fueling concerns that companies are driving down prices.



USDA officials have recently taken several steps to address the problem, including defining what constitutes an investigation. Correspondence requesting information from companies and monitoring activities that involve publicly available data no longer count.



The deputy administrator of the agency, JoAnn Waterfield, abruptly resigned last month.



A new administrator, James Link, took office in October and ordered changes after learning of the inspector general's findings.



"We've already taken several actions to get very active in the field, and we're going to get more active as time will permit us and funds will permit us," Link said.



His agency, which has 150 employees, is supposed to protect livestock producers from anticompetitive behavior by packers.



According to the report, Waterfield reprimanded the agency's eastern regional office last June for failing to classify enough of its work as investigations.



The agency's two other regional offices - in Des Moines and Denver - already were classifying all of their activities, including routine correspondence, as investigations, the report said. The Des Moines office is in charge of hog packing.



In June, the eastern office reported that it was tracking 425 investigations. By September, the total had jumped to 760.



The report also said it found incomplete records for more than half of the 1,842 cases being tracked by the agency as of June 30.



Waterfield's former office did not know her whereabouts. She has not yet been replaced.



Link said he was referring several cases to the inspector general for further investigation.



Harkin, whose concerns initiated the inspector general's review, said he would introduce legislation to create an office of special counsel at USDA to oversee enforcement of competition laws.



"America's producers have faced an increasingly integrated and consolidated market, but in the past five years USDA has made virtually no attempt to investigate or take action against unfair and anticompetitive market behavior," Harkin said.



desmoinesregister.com
 

Sandhusker

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Waterfield was doing what she was doing for a reason. Congress needs to get to the bottom of that. She was a symptom, not the disease.
 

Mike

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Harkin takes GIPSA to task
Thursday, January 19, 2006, 4:10 PM

by Tom Steever

The Grain Inspection Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) has been called on the carpet by the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee. A USDA Inspector General report requested last April by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin was issued Wednesday.

The report says that GIPSA hasn’t enforced the 85-year-old Packers and Stockyards Act. “I had no idea it was as bad as it is,” said Harkin Thursday. Further, according to Harkin, the report alleges that top GIPSA officials have actively blocked efforts to enforce it.

Harkin told reporters Thursday that the Senate Agriculture Committee should take additional action. “I really think this requires further investigation,” Harkin said, referring to the agency, “and quite frankly, I think the Agriculture Committee ought to meet, we ought to subpoena some of these people, put them under oath and find out just what is going on down there.”

Harkin says the Senate Ag Committee should compel current and former high-ranking GIPSA officials to testify, although he concedes he can't make that happen on his own.
 

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