USDA faces more questions on whether impact of cuts was exaggerated

The Agriculture Department faced more questions Wednesday about whether top officials were pushing a strategy to make the billions in recent cuts to the federal budget seem as painful as possible.

Under Secretary Dr. Elisabeth Hagen said she received no such guidance, during a House hearing that focused on the impact of sequester cuts on meat and poultry inspections. She faced questions on the matter from Iowa Republican Rep. Tom Latham. 

Hagen said she has not spoken directly with President Obama and that Congress is responsible for stopping the cuts, which started March 1 and include $85 billion just this year.

Questions surfaced earlier this month about whether top agency officials were trying to make the cuts seem as painful as possible, following the publication of an email exchange between an agency field officer asking about sequester cuts and a budget officer.

“However you manage that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be,” the officer responded in part.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified on Capitol Hill after the email surfaced that the administration does not have a policy of being inflexible and maximizing the cuts’ impact.

His remarks were followed by an Agriculture Department spokesperson telling Fox News the email had been “completely taken out of context” and that the response referred to "cuts and impacts communicated to Congress as part of the FY2013 budget, not as part of a sequester plan."