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USDA Fires Iowa Laboratory Workers

posted on July 31, 2009


DES MOINES, Iowa — Federal officials have fired some employees and reprimanded others at a central Iowa laboratory campus after allegations that veterinary credentials were used to purchase low-cost medications for themselves and relatives, a USDA spokeswoman said Thursday.

Administrative actions ranging from letters of reprimand to removal from federal service have been taken against a dozen employees, said Lyndsay Cole, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Cole declined to specifically say how many had been fired, citing personnel issues.

The USDA announced in February that 19 employees from three labs at the sprawling complex near Ames, which employs about 900 people, had been placed on paid leave. Seventeen worked in two labs overseen by APHIS: the National Veterinary Services Laboratory and the Center for Veterinary Biologics. Two worked at a lab operated by the Agricultural Research Service.

Two employees have since retired, one resigned and two others returned to duty with no formal administrative action, Cole said.

An Agricultural Research Service spokesman declined Thursday to discuss the status of the two ARS employees.

Officials said they weren't concerned the medications were being sold to anyone else, but that employees were using veterinary credentials to get medicines for themselves and family that should have been prescribed by a doctor. None were narcotics. An investigation by the Office of the Inspector General is ongoing.

The nation's chief veterinary officer, Dr. John Clifford, said in February that some of the alleged activity could have gone on for years, but insisted lab operations were not compromised. Cole reiterated the latter point Thursday.

"The laboratory processes were intact and this did not affect those," she said.

The USDA commissioned outside reviews of laboratory processes and management at the facilities after the allegations. Work done at the complex includes testing for diseases such as mad cow and bird flu.

Results of the processes review, released Thursday, concluded the labs are "highly efficient, well-managed organizations" but have reached their capacity. The management review said there is a culture gap that "is a source of frustration for many employees."

APHIS said on its Web site that the reviews "acknowledge the facility's complex culture and challenges facing the work force, as well as affirm the laboratories are highly efficient organizations that are appropriately protecting U.S. animal health."


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