Regs gone wild: Sheep-shearing program gets a raise

By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The sheer volume of regulation pouring out of the federal government is mind-boggling.

REGULATIONS: More than 1,500 pages of regulations were added to the Federal Register last week, including a provision to increase a spending cap for a taxpayer funded sheep improvement program.

Last week, 1,587 pages of new regulations were added to the Federal Register, a daily publication of proposed and finalized administrative rules.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute estimates 77,554 pages will be added by year’s end, leading to $7.6 billion to $10.8 billion in private-sector compliance costs. That’s in addition to several billion dollars in related government spending.

A glutton for punishment, I decided to take a look and saw something that explains a lot about the federal bureaucracy.

But it wasn’t the exhaustive new rule redefining the “maturity requirements” of the Choquette avocado and its regulatory interplay with the South Florida Avocado Administrative Committee. It wasn’t the new Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s guidelines on reporting workplace illness, or even the 238 pages of new Dodd-Frank financial regulations.

Something else caught my eye: the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center.

Last year, former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla. blasted the sheep-shearing program as a quintessential example of government waste.

“In today’s economy every dollar counts and we should be looking for savings by eliminating bloated programs such as the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center,” Radel told a U.S. House Agricultural Committee at the time.

The program has received tens of millions of dollars since it was established in 1996 and was seeking $11 million more in taxpayer funding last year for items such as:

  • A junket to Australia for a group called the Tri-Lambs, named after the 1980s film Revenge of the Nerds.
  • Providing beginner shearers with combs, brushes, scissors and razors.
  • A social media campaign to “create buzz” about lamb.
  • Funding for a video on best goat handling practices.

“It would probably be laughable if it wasn’t so sad,” Radel told the committee.

Fifteen-months later, Radel is gone — he resigned after pleading guilty to buying 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover cop in Washington D.C. — and there’s no sign of the sheep group having suffered anything resembling a funding haircut.

Things actually are looking up.

Among other changes, last week’s regulation includes a provision to more than triple the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center’s “administrative cap.”

Having my suspicions that this is a bureaucratic way of giving a raise, I contacted the United States Department of Agriculture for more information.

I received an email from the director of the Research and Promotion Division within the Livestock, Poultry, and Seed Program.

“The administrative expenses under the Sheep Center include the salary (no benefits) of one staff person directly involved in the daily workload associated with the Sheep Center,” wrote Kenneth R. Payne.

It was not revealed who the lucky person was.

“Additionally, other costs include travel to board meetings, printing, supplies, equipment, and other reasonable costs needed to complete the work involved in administering the program,” Payne said.

The administrative cap, previously limited to 3 percent, is now 10 percent of annual funding.

It’s worth noting that the NSIIC was supposed to be privatized in 2006, after 10 years and $50 million of initial seed money. But in 2008, it was re-established, given a $1 million bump and authorized for $10 million annually through 2012.

The sheep improvement group now enjoys a U.S. Treasury Department revolving fund with its own board of directors determining how the funds are spent.

Translation: Taxpayer funded sheep-shearing is expensive, and it’s here to stay.

Radel may have been right that this, and programs like it, is a huge waste of taxpayer money. But even after calling it out in Congress, the only thing that’s ended is Radel’s political career.

Regulations, meanwhile, keep rolling — one every 2 ½ hours, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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