ASA Calls for USDA Investigation of Checkoff Program

December 9, 2008 06:00 PM
Pro Farmer Editors

Serious ethical, legal, and financial allegations have been raised about how farmer checkoff funds and program activities are being conducted under the soybean checkoff program, according to a news release from the American Soybean Association (ASA).  And, as a result,ASA President John Hoffman says the group has asked USDA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) to conduct an investigation and audit so that the basis of the allegations can be impartially investigated to find the truth.

Allegations include the improper and wasteful expenditure of both checkoff and federal funds; potential evasion of mandated salary and administrative spending caps by USB; conflicts of interests at USB; use of checkoff funds for prohibited purposes by USB; and wasteful and excessive spending by USB. There are additional allegations concerning improper USB oversight and tolerance of actions that have taken place at the USSEC, an entity created by USB and ASA in October 2005. These allegations include improper conduct by a USSEC employee at USSEC functions; the firing of whistleblowers; improper employee relationships; contracting violations; management malfeasance and the inability of ASA Directors serving on USSEC Board to obtain an independent and objective investigation of the allegations.

"With USB and USSEC, we are dealing with entities that are spending tens of millions per year in soybean farmer checkoff dollars and U.S. taxpayer funds," Hoffman said. "As the policy organization that represents U.S. soybean farmers, it is ASA's responsibility to ensure that the soybean checkoff, and other entities the checkoff has created, are operating in an accountable and transparent manner in the best interest of soybean farmers."

"ASA and its members believe that since federal taxpayer funds or the federally mandated checkoff funds comprise all of the operations of USB and USSEC, we are compelled to petition for an OIG investigation to ensure these allegations are examined in an unbiased and fair way, something that ASA has tried to do within the framework of USB and USSEC, but has been thwarted in so doing by USB Directors and their attorneys," Hoffman said.

"ASA firmly believes it is doing the right thing for the soybean farmers by asking the Inspector General to conduct a full investigation of the serious allegations of wrongdoing that have surfaced," Hoffman said. "ASA believes the national soybean checkoff, as currently structured and operated, is no longer responsive and accountable to soybean farmers. The failure of USB leaders to take decisive action on these particular matters is indicative of how USB is no longer accountable and responsive to the very soybean farmers who are paying funds into the checkoff program."

During the national checkoff's nearly two decades of operation, soybean farmers have paid $1.3 billion into the checkoff, says ASA. At the higher price and acreage levels experienced recently, checkoff collections from soybean farmers in fiscal year 2008 are estimated to exceed $140 million -- three and half times the amount collected in 1992 when the national checkoff first began. Soybean farmers today are paying two to four times more to the checkoff fund than they have historically, and significant allegations of wasteful spending and abuse have emerged, says ASA.

The ASA Board of Directors approved calling for an Inspector General investigation at the Board's regularly scheduled winter meetings, which commenced yesterday in Saint Louis. During the meeting, Board members had the opportunity to review the allegations of improper activities that have surfaced and voted unanimously to take action in the best interest of U.S. soybean farmers. ASA has shared a summary of its concerns and allegations with state and national soybean leaders and key industry stakeholders. The summary document is also available at this link.



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