July 23, 2003
Diane Witiak
(202) 639-6419

Federal Employees Win Seafood Inspection Appeal

(Washington, D.C.)—“The inspection of seafood will continue to be handled by experienced and committed federal employees, rather than being sold off to private contractors whose bottom line is profit—not the American people’s health and safety,” stated Bobby L. Harnage, Sr., National President of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

In a decision issued July 17, 2003, the Department of Commerce has agreed with AFGE that the inspection of seafood is an “inherently governmental function” that should not be handed over to for-profit contractors. AFGE—along with the management of the Seafood Inspector Program (SIP) and the seafood industry—objected to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (a component of the Commerce Department) earlier decision (dated May 20, 2003) that seafood inspectors could be privatized.

“AFGE thanks Representative Frank and Senator Hollings for leading the fight to ensure that the Department of Commerce puts the health and safety concerns of the seafood industry and its customers first—and the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) privatization quotas last,” Harnage added.

In his decision, Otto Wolff, the Department of Commerce’s Assistant Secretary for Administration, stated, “The performance of these functions by private contractors—even under supervision by government employees—could well result in SIP’s failure to continue operating effectively in building public confidence in seafood safety.” Wolff noted that the transfer of these functions to private organizations would have a definite adverse impact on seafood exports and the American economy.

“Unfortunately,” Harnage emphasized, “the Department of Commerce must now review for privatization another 200 employees in order to make up for the recategorization of its seafood inspectors in order to meet OMB’s arbitrary privatization quotas—not because it serves the Department’s mission or the American people.”

The American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, is the largest union for government employees, representing 600,000 federal workers in the United States and overseas as well as employees of the District of Columbia. AFGE represents some 200 seafood inspectors working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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