Friday, March 10, 2017

Alaska Ag....The Juneau Games, Ch. 2

As the state legislature hammers away at the budget deficit, the Division of Ag is still busy spending money.

The expenditures include (and it's necessary to add "but are not limited to") the following:

A new hire for the meat plant, complete with specialty training. Recent public information relays that the actual closing on the plant is hoped for in June.

What is not relayed or part of public information is this tidbit: The land sales guy has been seen driving the convicts to and from the plant. It seems the Division of Ag is unaware that DoC training is *required* for transport?  Another point: Land sales people are paid to perform duties within their position description. These positions are paid for by monies raised by the sale of State lands. So what funds are being used to pay him? And what did they report to the Legislature about this?

Sending two people to a conference in the L48 on the subject of FSMA. That's two round trip tickets, plus per diem, for two employees. This information is not publicly available. In fact, if you go to the DOAs web site, their calendar and newsletter were last updated in 2016.  What kind of public information gateway is this, when the public has to spend money on a public information request every time they want to know what the DOA is doing?

Was sending people to the L48 a necessary expense? 

No, it was not. 

The Division of Ag does not have statutory control over food safety. It rests exclusively with ADEC. Where there is a fully qualified person, as it happens. 

Director Keyes told legislators that there was a "plan" to move the state vet's offices back under the Division roof.  This is an untruth, as no such plan evidently exists, just like no authorizing MOU is known to exist between ADEC and the Division of Agriculture.  Based upon this nonexistent plan (isn't it ironic that one plan is shelved, yet another is made of fairy tales?) Director Keyes hired a person to staff the FSMA program....and that newly arrived Missouri transplant hopped on a plane to attend the above conference.

The takeaway is this: To move the state vet's office into the Division of Ag requires a change in statutes. You know, committees, hearings, public comments, the whole works. Typically these changes can take two sessions (or more) of legislative work to complete. The folks in Juneau are pretty busy figuring out where and how to put their hands in our collective pockets, so any significant activity on the move is.....unlikely.

However, they could enter into a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). This is a mechanism whereby one department or office, can agree with another, over staffing and responsibility, etc. At stake here is some federal funding for food safety. It isn't a lot, but enough to justify (seemingly) hiring a new person or two for the Division of Ag.....even though an already qualified, expert person is already on payroll.

Now, about those inspections, referred to by Director Keyes. Not all inspections are equal. (and under FSMA there are only a handful of companies that qualify for those) and most appear to be field inspections of crops. These are not the same, not even close. One would hope that the Director understood he was reporting false information to the legislature-or at the very least, allowing them to reach an erroneous assumption without correction.

The Division has also wandered into uncharted waters, by hiring yet another person to establish certain inspections....inspections that are currently under the state vet's office. So that is two positions filled, for a program that does not yet exist, nor has a MOU.

By providing existent staff, the Division can then argue that they already have qualified people, therefore why not move the State Vet's office?

So here is a little more to consider on this particular issue:

How counterproductive would a Division of Ag FSMA MOU be? We have the people trained and already operating out of DEC, yet DOA is hiring and sending people for FSMA training! Where is the money coming from to train and pay for a position if an MOU, statutory authority, and federal funding are yet to be granted to DOA?

How did these positions get approved without funding or authority?

Now, wouldn't it be interesting, to see a complete accounting of payroll for the DOA?

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