USDA Secretary Schafer recommends audit
The United States Department of Agriculture informed the American Soybean Association Jan. 7 that Secretary Schafer has signed a memorandum recommending that USDA's Office of Inspector General conduct an audit and, as appropriate, investigation of the National Soybean Checkoff Program based on the petition filed by the ASA on Dec. 10, 2008. ASA's petition calls for an investigation of the United Soybean Board and the U.S. Soybean Export Council to ensure that soybean checkoff dollars are being managed and invested as prescribed by law.
"ASA is doing what is in the best interest of soybean farmers ethically, legally and financially," said ASA President Johnny Dodson, a soybean producer from Halls, Tenn. "Ignoring serious allegations of abuse or sweeping them under the rug would have been wrong and would have done a disservice to all soybean farmers who are paying the checkoff. Investigating and then correcting any problem areas is the right thing to do for U.S. soybean farmers. ASA hopes we will have a more responsive and accountable soybean checkoff as a result."
Following a careful review of the allegations and evidence, the ASA Board of Directors voted unanimously on Dec. 9, to submit a petition to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Inspector General of USDA requesting a full and impartial investigation. The allegations of abuse are serious and include:
--Use of a knife against another individual by an employee at an official function;
--An improper sexual relationship disrupting the management of the Japan foreign office and jeopardizing U.S. soy exports to that market;
--The misuse of checkoff and federal funds to facilitate the improper relationship;
--No-bid contracting violations;
--A one-sided investigation and white-washing of these actions;
--The firing of whistleblower employees;
--Conflicts of interest;
--Potential evasions of salary and administrative caps established in the national soybean checkoff act;
--Improper and wasteful expenditure of checkoff funds,
It is ASA's understanding that Secretary Schafer and Inspector General Phylis Fong have discussed how best to proceed with the audit and investigation. A process will be established by the Inspector General's Office on how the audit and investigation will go forward with the involvement of Inspector General staff and other USDA agencies.
"The filing of the petition was not about any disagreements that the ASA may have with the USB," Dodson said. "There are good intentioned people, soybean farmers just like me, serving on the USB Board, but somehow there has been a breakdown in the system that cannot be allowed to continue.
"In the meeting with Secretary Schafer, ASA emphasized that its concerns are directed at the operation and administration of the national checkoff board, not the state checkoff boards," Dodson said. "The allegations and concerns of abuse that the ASA Board has asked to be investigated involve actions taken at the national level by USB and entities it has caused to be created."
For more information about the soybean checkoff, see www.soybeancheckoff.com. To learn more about the views of ASA's leaders regarding the national soybean checkoff, visit www.SoyGrowers.com/oig/ where ASA has made available a summary of its petition and video interviews with current and past ASA Presidents and Board members. The "ASA Leaders" presentation features ASA Executive Committee members Bob Rikli, Alan Kemper, Randy Mann, Ron Kindred, Steve Wellman, Johnny Dodson, Rick Ostlie, Rob Joslin and John Hoffman. The "ASA Past Leaders" video features past-Presidents David Erickson (1996-97), Bart Ruth (2001-02) and James Lee Adams (1988-89), and former Executive Committee member Doug Hartz (2001-03).
"ASA believes strongly in the need for a national soybean checkoff program, but it has to be accountable, transparent and responsive to soybean farmers, and spend their dollars wisely," Dodson said. "In light of the serious allegations and concerns that have come to light, conducting an independent audit and investigation is the right thing to do and this is what U.S. soybean farmers expect."