Washington just doesn’t get it. Year after year after year, budgets keep going up, the debt keeps increasing, and Washington politicians don’t do anything about it. Barack Obama has added $6 trillion to the national debt, and now amid the panic of the “sequester,” we are finding out just how wasteful Washington is.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is on a mission. It’s a mission to point out the stupid waste in Washington that continues to consume billions of tax dollars. His most recent example is contained in a letter he wrote to Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack. In it, Coburn points out that while the Obama administration is saying that it may need to furlough USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) employees for two weeks, plans continue for boondoggle trips to California’s wine country for “tasting receptions” and other extravagant events.

Because food safety is vital to our nation’s economy and our citizens’ health, I would encourage you to first cancel or eliminate unnecessary spending on travel and conferences.

For example, two USDA agencies — Rural Development and Agricultural Marketing Service — are sponsoring the 26th annual California Small Farm Conference next week. In addition to speakers from USDA agencies, the gathering will feature field trips and tasting receptions. “The Tasting Reception is the most well attended networking event of the conference and showcases the regional bounty from local farms, chefs, wineries, breweries, bakeries and other food purveyors” and “special guest chefs will turn donated local agriculture products into tasty dishes to sample with exceptional local wines, brews and spirits.”

Wine tasting is also part of the itinerary at another USDA sponsored gathering — the Priester National Extension Health Conference — scheduled for next month in Oregon.

While these conferences may be fun, interesting and even educational get aways for department employees, food inspecting rather than food tasting should be USDA’s priority at this time.

As Fox News reports, the USDA has fired back at Coburn and claims that it has “cracked down” on conference spending.

“USDA has been aggressively managing travel and conference costs for the last several years to achieve savings,” a USDA spokesperson said. “As a result of this, and other efficiency initiatives, the Department has achieved over $700 million in efficiencies, savings, and cost avoidances during the last three fiscal years.”

So… do you think they are cutting back? As the news story points out, “A House report last week claimed the federal government spent at least $340 million on conferences in 2012.” You read that correctly. Our tax dollars pay for $340 million in events so that federal employees can hang out, schmooze, eat, drink, and be merry. Oh, and they might hear from a speaker or two.

This example is obviously just the tip of the iceberg, but the point is that the iceberg of wasteful spending is HUGE, and it is heading right for the Titanic known as the United States of America.

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