Two Agriculture Department employees who are accused of failing to properly administer a landconservation program in Washington state could pay with their jobs under a proposal by Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash.
Democrats say Congress will be a “bully” if it goes along with Nethercutt’s tactics.
But Nethercutt says he intends to show that bureaucratic incompetence and unwillingness to admit errors won’t be tolerated.
“These people can’t administer the program,” Nethercutt said. “They ought to be gone.”
On a 28-21 vote, the House Appropriations Committee agreed Wednesday to a Nethercutt measure that would prevent money from being spent for the deputy administrator and assistant deputy administrator for farm programs at the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, effectively removing those officials.
Nethercutt said those officials - Richard Newman and Parks Shackleford, respectively - will not modify a decision that accepted only 172,000 of 819,000 acres offered by Washington farmers for the Conservation Reserve Program earlier this year.
That acceptance rate of 21 percent was the worst in the nation in the latest signup for CRP, which pays farmers to set aside environmentally fragile land. Nethercutt said USDA failed to properly explain and administer new CRP rules in Washington.
“Hundreds of thousands of acres are going to go back into production,” he said. “They made a huge mistake that has huge consequences in my state.”
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., and other Democrats criticized Nethercutt’s measure as a heavy-handed attempt to micromanage an executive branch department.
“That puts us in the position of being a bully,” Obey said.
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman has previously said that farmers in Washington and elsewhere who were rejected in the most recent CRP signup will get another chance this fall.
“We feel it is unfortunate that he would express his frustration in this way,” said USDA spokesman Tom Amontree, adding that Glickman plans to visit Eastern Washington soon to discuss the issue.
The Nethercutt amendment was attached to the spending bill for the Agriculture Department that will go next to the full House.
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