It’s been a loooong time since I posted a new interview here on the site (although the archives have plenty of great ones if you haven’t read them…just saying), but an idea pretty much fell into my lap this week when I released that one of my good friends is an inspector for the USDA. And even though he had to be a little more tight-lipped than most of our interview guests because of the exact nature of his job, I was still able to do a mini-interview with him. [If it seems significantly shorter than most interviews, it is, and maybe some people out there will thank me for that.]
1. Thanks for coming [we’ll call him Kyle, anonymity is even more important for him than most interviewees]. I appreciate you making the time, even though you’re not exactly busy right now. What’s it like to have a week off from work but under the worst possible circumstances?
Kyle: It’s bizarre. I was already out of work earlier in the year because of the sequester. I don’t always use all of my vacation time anyway, so I’m going a little stir-crazy.
2. What exactly is it that you do for the USDA?
Kyle: I’m an inspector for chicken plants. I go into different chicken plants and make sure that things are up to code, they aren’t taking unnecessary risks, the equipment is clean, etc. It’s not a job you really want the government taking a break from, you know?
3. Definitely, I’m getting a Contagion-flashback just thinking about it. And will you be paid for the lost days once the shutdown is over?
Kyle: I have no idea. I’ve been asking that same question myself, and have had a hard time getting a clear answer. I’ve been told that after the Clinton-era shutdowns, the inspectors were paid once they came back, but they really don’t know this time.
4. I know it’s a little hard to give your opinion given your non-political position, but this has got to be the craziest piece of politics you’ve ever witnessed on the job?
Kyle: I can say that it seems unprecedented. Bush passed a huge healthcare bill [the Medicare Part D expansion] and Democrats never really put up much of a fight. The Clinton-era shutdowns were eventually smoothed out with Newt Gingrich and seemed to be about more substantial issues. To shutdown the government as a last ditch attempt to defund one bill you don’t like…it’s unusual and strange, to say the least. It has a lot of unintended consequences to be sure, and that can seem irresponsible.
5. What do you make of John Boehner trying to make this look like the shutdown is the Democrat’s fault when that’s just plainly not true? There has been a real reluctance for “moderate” people to direct the blame at any one party, and just more generally complain about congress not working together, but how can you work with people that won’t be happy unless they get the forced-defunding of “Obamacare?” Isn’t this shotgun legislating?
Kyle: I can’t really say anything about that, but I’ll just say that you bring up some interesting questions. [Laughs] I’ll leave it at that.
6. It must be frustrating for you not to say anything since The Tea Party-led Republican congress—-even before this shutdown—-has made their disdain for regulators known. You’ve got everyone from Rick Perry to Ron Paul (two guys that don’t have a lot in common besides the state of Texas and their initials) saying they’ll get rid of regulatory agencies to loud applause. It seems like a party that has become so beholden to business that they resist any and all attempts to make businesses accountable.
Kyle: They do have the same initials [laughs], that’s funny. What I can say is that people want the USDA and they need the USDA. Nobody wants there to be nothing standing between them and a salmonella outbreak. If you explained to people what the USDA actually does—-not the rhetoric, but the reality—-and then asked them if they wanted them to keep doing it, I think 95 percent of people would say absolutely. Food safety is really a ridiculous thing question, but I will say that this attitude of demonizing regulators doesn’t seem to be something that the average American has, but it does seem like a certain political interest keeps pushing it into the mainstream.
Alabama Liberal End Note: Thanks Kyle and I hope you get to go back to work soon so that I can safely eat chicken!