I heard a lot of industry leaders this week lament the fact that so much time and effort was wasted in the Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit of the checkoff, which was released last week. It’s just the latest effort to use the checkoff to play political games. After all, there were never any real concerns about the process or how checkoff funds were being used. Still, the whole thing was kind of entertaining to watch unfold.
But, just when you thought this whole sordid affair would fade into infamy, the group R-CALF USA issued a letter of complaint this week. The letter did more than just burn a bridge or two; it blew them up, and then denied the bridge ever existed in the first place. The tone and hyperbole are impossible to describe, so I’ll just let these direct statements sink in:
“R-CALF USA could not be more disappointed in the absurd, incomplete and trivial report; the OIG report exemplifies the despicable cronyism that pervades the relationship between the USDA and the meatpacker lobby, which latter group is represented in the OIG report by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).
“The findings and conclusions contained in the scant, 17-page OIG report are incongruent and render both USDA and the OIG untrustworthy and without credibility. The OIG report is a colossal whitewash of monumental proportions. Only within an agency fraught with corruption and cronyism can a conclusive finding that the NCBA had improperly charged the beef checkoff fund hundreds of thousands of dollars nevertheless result in a conclusion by USDA that NCBA is guilty of no wrongdoing.
“The agency’s pronouncement that such is the case defies any semblance of logic, impartiality and credibility. As if the foregoing examples of incongruent findings and conclusions were not already enough to marginalize USDA by relegating the entire OIG report to the lowly stature of political subterfuge, the OIG report also is woefully incomplete…”
This type of rhetoric goes on throughout the letter. I can’t include it all, and there were some reasonable wordings and concerns raised, but these sentences as the letter wrapped up, describe the tone magnificently:
“If it were not for the serious, irreversible damage this outrageously absurd report has inflicted on hardworking independent U.S. cattlemen, it would be laughable. So outrageous is this report that R-CALF USA is compelled to put into the record that there is a fast-growing sentiment among independent U.S. cattle producers that the meatpacker lobby, particularly the NCBA, has the best USDA that money can buy.”
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The amazing thing is that this letter was so far over the top and across the bounds of etiquette, even for Washington, D.C., that the opponents of R-CALF USA reacted to the letter in glee and made sure it was forwarded to everyone in a position of power. Ironically, the greatest consternation expressed was by the rank-and-file members of R-CALF USA, who realized that the tone was unacceptable for an organization hoping to have a seat at the table and be considered a serious player in important matters regarding the industry.
Without question, this type of letter would seem to preclude R-CALF USA from the table as a serious player or power broker. The unwritten rules of the Washington Beltway basically hold that you can essentially call another senator a no-good liar, but you must begin by calling him and “honorable and esteemed colleague.” When you break the rules, you get written off. Whether it will require a mere apology from R-CALF USA, and a serious and concerted effort to rebuild the bridges burned, or much more, will be something that will be decided in time.
There was considerable surprise at the way the letter went after the Obama administration and current USDA officials; after all, these folks had been considered very good allies of R-CALF USA. I understand some of the frustration with the collapse of the GIPSA rule and the capital invested in attempting to make the checkoff audit a scandal that would have legs, but making enemies of those who hold your fate in their hands is usually very bad policy. The bottom line is that R-CALF USA has worked too long and too hard to allow itself to be trivialized in this manner.
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