WASHINGTON—Representative Clay Higgins (R-La.), House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.), and Oversight Republicans called on U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to delay the implementation of President Biden’s vaccine mandate for USDA employees until the department can explain how it will make up for the potential loss in staff. The Republican lawmakers express concern with current vacancies at the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the vaccine mandate’s potential to impair our economy, food supply, and national security.
“We are concerned with the United States Department of Agriculture’s rejection of the National Association of FSA County Office Employees’ request for an exemption to President Biden's Executive Order Requiring Vaccination for Federal Employees,” wrote the Republican lawmakers. “Our offices have heard from numerous farmers and ranchers concerned with such far overreach by the Biden Administration and how this mandate will jeopardize the programmatic delivery of Farm Bill programs. While parts of the country are still recovering from an active 2020 and 2021 weather season, such as the Derechos and droughts in the Midwest, hurricanes and winter freezes in the South, and wildfires out West, ensuring the Department is keeping offices fully staffed is crucial.”
Local and state FSA offices play a pivotal and crucial function in interacting with the agriculture community. Eleven months into the Biden Administration, USDA has only appointed seven state FSA Directors. These positions do not require Senate confirmation. Recruiting and retaining local and state FSA personnel is a complex and slow process, and the vaccine mandate will exacerbate it and result in the loss of decades of experience and knowledge.
“Playing politics with American's food supply is profoundly concerning. With the threat of African Swine Fever knocking on our door, South Korea’s confirmation of High Path Avian Influenza, and the continuing rising cost of household foods, any further action by the Department that would increase these risks is misguided. We respectfully ask you to delay the implementation of this mandate until the Department can explain how it will make up for the potential loss in staff and when the remaining 43 FSA State Directors will be appointed,” the lawmakers concluded.
The letter to Secretary Vilsack can be found here.