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U.S. Cattlemen’s Asks Ag Secretary To “Intervene and Initiate Full-Blown Investigation” Into Checkoff Irregularities

02 Jul

USCA Calls For Beef Checkoff Investigation by USDA

For Immediate Release

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association

July 1, 2011

USCA (July 1, 2011) – The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) has sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack requesting a full investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Marketing Service (USDA/AMS) into emerging checkoff contractor compliance and funding management issues as well as events surrounding the resignation of Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) CEO, Tom Ramey.    

“Enough is enough,” said Jon Wooster, USCA President, San Lucas, California.  “The beef checkoff’s majority contractor has engaged in a public campaign attacking the CBB staff and leadership, demanding their resignations or involuntary removal.  These tactics have culminated in the resignation of the CBB CEO on June 29, a critical blow to the Beef Checkoff Program.  CBB staff and leadership are being attacked and incriminated for essentially doing their jobs; for providing oversight of the checkoff.  With the recent audit review findings of expanded financial irregularities, we now find ourselves in a situation where NCBA has apparently decided that its best defense is offense and that includes fostering a culture of hostility and distrust.  USCA believes it is essential that the Department of Agriculture step in and get control before producers lose all confidence in the checkoff program.”

In early June, CBB members received an update on the checkoff contractor compliance review of NCBA for the period of 2008 – 2010.  The update reveals that the total misappropriated checkoff funds by NCBA now exceeds more than $305,000 and even more issues are under review.  Last year, a contractor compliance review of NCBA by the independent auditing firm Clifton-Gunderson turned up more than $200,000 in NCBA misappropriations, which NCBA was forced to pay back to the checkoff. Included in that figure were travel expenses for the NCBA CEO and his family for a non-checkoff related trip.  The most recent compliance review update includes tens of thousands of dollars in registration fees improperly credited to NCBA for an event paid for by the beef checkoff and more than $8,000 in travel and overhead expenses improperly charged to the checkoff.   

Meeting minutes from the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) Executive Committee from 2010 and 2011 show that the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) CEO apparently committed checkoff funds under contract to Gaylord Properties for a Washington, DC-based joint conference site without the approval of the CBB Executive Committee.  Meeting minutes also reflect that the NCBA CEO excluded the CBB from contract negotiations with Gaylord Properties despite being directed by the CBB Executive Committee that the CBB would not participate in a Washington, DC conference because of increased costs to the checkoff.  The penalty alone for breaking the Gaylord Properties contract was $200,000, and the minutes reflect that CBB legal counsel advised the Executive Committee that contractual obligations would be the responsibility of both NCBA’s Policy and Checkoff Divisions.   

“The evidence points to a situation where the NCBA CEO was disregarding the CBB’s direction as to negotiating and contracting for convention sites and purposefully excluded CBB leadership and staff from the contract negotiations despite being directed otherwise on numerous occasions,” noted Jon Wooster.  “Irregularities and insubordination appear to be ongoing issues and since NCBA appears unwilling to rectify the situation we are compelled to ask USDA to investigate and intervene in order to protect the integrity of the overall checkoff program and assure producers that these abuses will be halted.  The situation could not be more unfortunate.  Investor trust is at stake.”

“These financial transgressions have been shrouded from public discussion by NCBA’s actions earlier this year to file charges of misconduct against CBB leadership and staff,” continued Wooster.  “These tactics have extracted valuable resources from a checkoff program budget that has been reduced by 20 percent over five years.” noted Wooster.   “It is abundantly clear that NCBA is not willing to take any steps whatsoever to embrace the structure changes needed to strengthen financial firewalls and restore producer faith and trust.  Therefore, USCA has called on the Secretary to intervene and to initiate a full-blown investigation of the ongoing irregularities.”

“In the meantime, USCA urges the CBB to move forward with consideration of its roles and responsibilities policy changes,” said Wooster.  “The decisions made by the CBB later this summer when it considers the proposed changes will send a resounding message to cattle producers everywhere.” 

Read U.S. Cattlemen’s letter to Secretary Vilsack at www.uscattlemen.org.

Established in March 2007, USCA is committed to concentrating its efforts in Washington, DC to enhance and expand the cattle industry’s voice on Capitol Hill. USCA has a full-time presence in Washington, giving cattle producers across the country a strong influence on policy development. For more information go to www.uscattlemen.org.

 

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Posted by on July 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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