USDA's IG finds ‘insufficient evidence' to support soybean charges

USDA's IG finds ‘insufficient evidence' to support soybean charges

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



Washington, July 27 - USDA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) found insufficient evidence to support numerous allegations brought by the American Soybean Association (ASA) against the United Soybean Board (USB), the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) and McLeod, Watkinson & Miller, based in Washington, D.C., the law firm representing both USB and USSEC, according to a letter that OIG Inspector General Phyllis Fong sent to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) that was obtained by Agri-Pulse.

“It is our conclusion that we found insufficient evidence to support ASA's allegations; although we do recommend closer oversight by USB of USSEC, in the future. This concludes our review of the matter,” Fong wrote.

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The investigation started when ASA leaders submitted a petition to USDA in December 2008, alleging, among other things, misuse of funds on feeding trials in Europe and what ASA described as “potential evasion” of salary and administrative caps, along with “excessive spending.” Since that time, USB has spent hundreds of hours and submitted truckloads of documents in an effort to dispute the claims.

But Fong noted that most of the allegations had either been dealt with appropriately or were outside of OIG's jurisdiction.

“With regards to the many allegations involving USB's misuse of funds, we reviewed documents provided by ASA, USB, USSEC, AMS and FAS.......we found insufficient evident to support ASA's allegations. During interviews, some ASA members told us they did not have any documentary evidence that USB was engaged in inappropriate activities.”

(For more on the original ASA petition and background, see “Sex, Knives and Soybean Politics” at www.agri-pulse.com/uploaded/12152008SW.pdf)

Fong noted that “based on interviews, it appears the dispute between ASA and USB began when Congress started the checkoff program” and she outlined most of the recent charges from the petition. To read her entire letter, go to: http://agri-pulse.com/uploaded/OIGReport072310.pdf

OIG staff has not yet responded to our request for the entire report, or explained why they took the unusual move of releasing highlights of the investigation in a letter to Sen. Grassley. The Iowa Republican, who serves as the ranking GOP member on the Senate Finance Committee, officially submitted the ASA petition in January, almost one month after ASA leaders submitted their original petition to the Secretary of Agriculture.

USB board members have scheduled a conference call later today to discuss the OIG report.

In a set of talking points prepared for the press conference which were obtained by Agri-Pulse, the farmer-leaders of the United Soybean Board (USB)/ soybean checkoff say they “are encouraged that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) found no basis for any of the allegations regarding USB operations. The OIG report speaks for itself.”

The USB memo also notes:

“The OIG recommended that USB increase its oversight of the United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC), the primary contractor for international marketing programs. This increased oversight began when the contract was renewed October 1, 2008. It is standard practice for the farmer-leaders of our board to continually evaluate the effectiveness, value and efficiencies of our primary contractors. With a detailed review of the OIG report, we will consider additional opportunities where oversight may be necessary with USSEC.

In a sign that soybean leaders are starting to mend some of the fences that have long divided the two soybean groups, the American Soybean Association (ASA) also noted in a prepared statement that they are “pleased that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has completed its review and found that the soybean checkoff is operating as it should. We are pleased that we can put this issue behind our industry.”

“Substantial management and board changes have been made at the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) after ASA asked for an OIG investigation,” the statement continues. “The now former USSEC CEO was placed on administrative leave and the board of directors has been restructured. As a result of the significant leadership and management changes that have been made at USSEC, we believe soybean farmer interests are being better served.”

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