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Proposed Rule

Changes in Fees for Federal Meat Grading and Certification Services

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA.

ACTION:

Proposed rule.

SUMMARY:

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) proposes to increase the hourly fees charged for voluntary Federal meat grading and certification services performed by the Meat Grading and Certification (MGC) Branch. The hourly fees would be adjusted by this action to reflect the increased cost of providing service and to ensure that the MGC Branch operates on a financially self-supporting basis.

DATES:

Comments must be received on or before December 31, 2002.

ADDRESSES:

Interested persons are invited to submit written comments to Larry R. Meadows, Chief; USDA, AMS, LS, MGC Branch, STOP 0248, Room 2628-S, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20250-0248. Telephone number (202) 720-1246. Comments may also be submitted electronically to Larry.Meadows@usda.gov or faxed to (202) 690-4119.

All comments should reference docket number LS-02-06 and note the date and page number of this issue of the Federal Register.

Comments received may be inspected at the above address, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., e.s.t., Monday through Friday, except legal holidays.

Start Further Info

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Larry R. Meadows, Chief, MGC Branch, (202) 720-1246.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

The Secretary of Agriculture is authorized by the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (AMA), as amended (7 U.S.C. 1621, et seq.), to provide voluntary Federal meat grading and certification services to facilitate the orderly marketing of meat and meat products and to enable consumers to obtain the quality of meat they desire. The AMA also provides for the collection of fees from users of the Federal meat grading and certification services that are approximately equal to the cost of providing these services. The hourly fees are established by equitably distributing the program's projected operating costs over the estimated hours of service—revenue hours—provided to users of the service on a yearly basis. Program operating costs include employee salaries and benefits, which account for nearly 80 percent of the operating costs, and travel, training, and administrative costs. Periodically, the fees must be adjusted to ensure that the program remains financially self-supporting.

AMS regularly reviews its user-fee-financed programs to determine if the fees are adequate. The most recent review determined that the existing fee schedule for the MGC Branch would not generate sufficient revenues to recover operating costs for current and near-term periods while maintaining an adequate reserve balance. The operating loss for fiscal year (FY) 2002 is projected to total $1.6 million. Without a fee increase, the operating loss for FY 2003 is projected to reach $2.9 million. These combined losses will deplete MGC Branch's operating reserve and place the MGC Branch in an unstable financial position that will adversely affect its ability to provide meat grading and certification services.

This proposal is necessary to offset decreased revenue hours and increased program operating expenses incurred since the last fee increase. The MGC Branch has lost revenue due to the implementation of more efficient audit-based and pilot certification programs and the continued consolidation within the livestock and meat industry. Audit-based and pilot certification programs employ fewer personnel and, therefore, generate fewer revenue hours as compared to traditional certification services.

MGC Branch operating expenses have increased due to (1) information system upgrades mandated by changes in information system technology; (2) congressionally mandated salary increases for all Federal Government employees in 2001, 2002, and 2003; (3) inflation of nonsalary operating costs; and (4) accumulated increases in continental United States (CONUS) per diem rates, mileage rates, and office maintenance costs. In the past 9 years, the MGC Branch has made efforts to control operating costs by closing 3 field offices, reducing mid-level supervisory staff by over 50 percent, and reducing the number of support staff by 38 percent. At the same time, the MGC Branch has utilized automated information management systems for data collection, retrieval, and dissemination, applicant billing, and disbursement of employee entitlements. The reduction in field offices, supervisory staff, and support personnel and the increased use of automated systems has enabled the MGC Branch to absorb a substantial portion of the operating costs and minimize hourly fee increases during these years.

Despite these cost reduction efforts and hourly fee increases in 1998 and 2000, the MGC Branch incurred a $657,000 operating loss in FY 2001. Furthermore, AMS projects that without an hourly fee increase, the MGC Branch will lose approximately $8.6 million from FY 2002 through FY 2004 and totally deplete program reserves to the point of deficit operations (i.e. FY 2002, $1.6 million; FY 2003, $2.9 million; and FY 2004, $4.1 million).

In view of these increased costs, AMS proposes to increase the hourly fees. The base hourly fee for commitment applicants would increase from $45 to $55. A commitment applicant is a user of meat grading and certification services who agrees to pay for five continuous 8 hour days, Monday through Friday between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., excluding legal holidays. The base hourly fee for noncommitment applicants would increase from $52 to $64. A noncommitment applicant is a user of meat grading and certification services, who agrees to pay an hourly fee without committing to a certain number of service hours. The premium hourly fee would increase from $57 to $70. The premium hourly fee is charged to Start Printed Page 66577applicants when meat grading and certification services (1) exceed 8 hours per day, (2) are performed before 6 a.m. and after 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and (3) any time on Saturday or Sunday, except on legal holidays. The legal holiday fee would increase from $90 to $110 and is charged to applicants for meat grading and certification services provided on legal holidays.

Executive Order 12866

This action has been determined to be not significant for purposes of Executive Order 12866, and has not been reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

Pursuant to the requirements set forth in the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601, et seq.), the Administrator of AMS considered the economic impact of this proposed action on small entities and determined that it will not have a significant economic effect on a substantial number of small entities.

AMS, through its MGC Branch, provides voluntary Federal meat grading and certification services to 450 businesses, including 152 livestock slaughterers, 79 facilities that process federally donated products, 74 meat processors, 46 livestock producers and feeders, 28 brokers, 26 organic certifying companies, 25 trade associations, 17 State and Federal entities, and 3 distributors. Seventy-two percent of these businesses qualify as small entities, a company that employs less than 500 employees. Small entities generate approximately 17 percent of the MGC Branch's revenues and are under no obligation to use voluntary Federal meat grading and certification services provided under the authority of the AMA.

Federal meat grading and certification services facilitate the orderly marketing of meat and meat products and enable consumers to obtain the quality of meat they desire. Grading services consist of the evaluation of carcass beef, lamb, pork, veal, and calf for compliance with the grades of the appropriate official U.S. Standard. The MGC Branch grades approximately 21.1 billion pounds of meat each year. Certification services consist of the evaluation of meat and meat products for compliance with specification and contractual requirements. Certification services are regularly used by meat purchasers to ensure that the quality and yields of the products they purchase comply with their stated requirements. The MGC Branch certifies approximately 18.1 billion pounds of meat and meat products each year.

This action would raise the hourly fees charged to users of Federal meat grading and certification services. AMS estimates that this action would provide the MGC Branch an additional $401,000 per month in FY 2003. Since small entities account for 17 percent of MGC Branch revenues, they would pay an average of $212 per month per applicant. This action and the projected increase in revenue hours would increase revenues by $4.8 million per year and replenish operating revenues for the projected losses of $2.6 million in FY 2002 and $2.3 million in FY 2003. Even with this action, the unit cost for MGC Branch service (revenue/total pounds graded and certified) would remain unchanged at approximately $0.0006 per pound.

This action is necessary to offset decreased revenue hours and increased program operating costs incurred since the last fee increase. The MGC Branch has lost revenue due to the implementation of more efficient audit-based and pilot certification programs and the continued consolidation within the livestock and meat industry. Audit-based and pilot certification programs employ fewer personnel and, therefore, generate fewer revenue hours as compared to traditional certification services.

MGC Branch operating expenses have increased due to (1) information system upgrades mandated by the information system technology; (2) congressionally mandated salary increases for all Federal Government employees in 2001, 2002, and 2003; (3) inflation of nonsalary operating costs; and (4) accumulated increases in continental United States (CONUS) per diem rates, mileage rates, and office maintenance costs. Since 1993, the MGC Branch has made efforts to control operating costs by closing 3 field offices, reducing mid-level supervisory staff by over 50 percent, and reducing the number of support staff by 38 percent. At the same time, the MGC Branch has utilized automated information management systems for data collection, retrieval, and dissemination, applicant billing, and disbursement of employee entitlements. The reduction in field offices, supervisory staff and support personnel and the increased use of automated systems has enabled the MGC Branch to absorb a substantial portion of the operating costs and minimize hourly fee increases over the past 9 years.

Despite these cost reduction efforts and hourly fee increases in 1998 and 2000, the MGC Branch incurred a $657,000 operating loss in FY 2001. Furthermore, AMS projects that without an hourly fee increase; the MGC Branch would lose approximately $8.6 million from FY 2002 through FY 2004 and totally deplete program reserves to the point of deficit operations.

In view of these increased costs, AMS proposes to increase the hourly fees for Federal meat grading and certification services. The base hourly fee for commitment applicants would increase from $45 to $55. A commitment applicant is a user of meat grading and certification services who agrees to pay for five continuous 8 hour days, Monday through Friday between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., excluding legal holidays. The base hourly fee for noncommitment applicants would increase from $52 to $64. A noncommitment applicant is a user of meat grading and certification services, who agrees to pay an hourly fee without committing to a certain number of service hours. The premium hourly fee would increase from $57 to $70. The premium hourly fee is charged to applicants when meat grading and certification services (1) exceed 8 hours per day, (2) are performed before 6 a.m. and after 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and (3) any time on Saturday or Sunday, except on legal holidays. The legal holiday fee would increase from $90 to $110 and is charged to applicants for meat grading and certification services provided on legal holidays.

Civil Justice Reform

This action has been reviewed under Executive Order 12988, Civil Justice Reform. This action is not intended to have retroactive effect and would not pre-empt any State or local laws, regulations, or policies, unless they present an irreconcilable conflict. There are no administrative procedures which must be exhausted prior to any judicial challenge to the provisions of this rule.

Paperwork Reduction Act

This action would not impose any additional reporting or recordkeeping requirements on users of Federal meat grading and certification services.

Start List of Subjects

List of Subjects in 7 CFR Part 54

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For the reasons set forth in the preamble, it is proposed that 7 CFR part 54 be amended as follows:

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PART 54—MEATS, PREPARED MEATS, AND MEAT PRODUCTS (GRADING, CERTIFICATION, AND STANDARDS)

1. The authority citation for 7 CFR part 54 continues to read as follows:

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Start Printed Page 66578 Authority: 7 U.S.C. 1621-1627.

End Authority
[Amended]

2. Section 54.27 is amended as follows:

a. In paragraph (a), remove “$52” and add “$64” in its place, remove “$57” and add “$70” in its place, remove “$90” and add “$110” in its place.

b. In paragraph (b), remove “$45” and add “$55” in its place, remove “$57” and add “$70” in its place, remove “$90” and add “$110” in its place.

Start Signature

Dated: October 28, 2002.

A.J. Yates,

Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service.

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[FR Doc. 02-27766 Filed 10-31-02; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3410-02-P