DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture will close 259 domestic offices, labs and other facilities as part of an effort to save $150 million per year, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday.
While the closures and other cost-cutting steps will affect the USDA headquarters in Washington and operations in 46 states, the savings will be relatively small in the context of the agency's $145 billion budget.
The closures follow a review of USDA operations done as part of the Obama administration's efforts to cut waste, Vilsack said.
"We must innovate, modernize and be better stewards of the taxpayers' dollars," he said in a prepared statement released before his speech before the American Farm Bureau Federation in Honolulu.
The USDA did not immediately provide details on which offices would be closed or whether employees would be laid off. An outline given to The Associated Press before Vilsack's speech said many offices had few employees or were near others.
Some closures had already been announced. The USDA said last year it would shut down 10 agricultural research stations, including the only one in Alaska, as the Obama administration looked to cut $42 million from the USDA's Agricultural Research Service budget.
In Alaska, researchers had been looking for ways to use the vast waste generated by the largest wild fishery in the nation to make everything from gel caps for pills to fish meal for livestock feed. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported last month that the scientists would transfer elsewhere by March, ending that work.
The USDA manages a wide array of programs, from emergency aid for farmers to grants for rural development and food assistance programs for the poor.
Along with the Agricultural Research Service, seven other departments will be affected by closures, including the Farm Service Agency, Rural Development and Food Safety and Inspection Service. Seven foreign offices will be closed.
Officials in the affected departments either didn't return messages requesting comment or referred questions back to the main USDA spokeswoman, who did not immediately provide more details.
Vilsack said the proposed cuts, along with other cost-saving measures such as consolidating cellphone plans, will allow the USDA to continue making investments that have helped U.S. agriculture experience its most productive period in history.
"As we continue to invest in rural communities across the country, USDA has heard from producers about reducing red tape and the need to modernize its services," Vilsack said. "Today we are answering that challenge by announcing a series of efforts to help us continue to streamline operations, make the best use of taxpayer resources and provide the best possible service to the American people."
Associated Press writer Dan Joling in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.