Today, the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) filed a complaint for injunctive relief, demanding the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Agriculture make a final determination and release all required records related to a 2013 FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request regarding Beef Checkoff audit reports.
The action filed today follows an 18-month struggle to obtain the truth about an OIG Beef Checkoff audit began in February 2011. The audit was presumably prompted by the disturbing findings of a Clifton Gunderson Accounting Firm performance review commissioned by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. After examining the equivalent of a mere nine days of activity, irregularities were uncovered which resulted in the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) having to return more than $200,000. These numerous irregularities included improper payment for such things as spousal travel and private loans.
More than two years after beginning its investigation and after generating more than 3,000 pages of report drafts, OIG released a scant, seventeen-page report that appeared wholly irreconcilable with the Clifton Gunderson findings. Remarkably and to the contrary, it stated; “The Office of Inspector General (OIG) determined that the relationships between the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board (beef board) and other industry-related organizations … complied with legislation,”. This shocking statement was later removed from the report without explanation.
Unaddressed in the report was the glaring and fundamental conflict of interest created by NCBA having iron-fisted control of the Checkoff contract awarding process and using this control to consistently award more than 90% of the contracts to itself.
In an initial response to OCM’s FOIA request, OIG acknowledged it had located more than 10,000 pages of information. Yet, after 18 months and multiple demands, OCM has received less than 1,000 relatively innocuous, heavily redacted pages from OIG, and with no final determination in sight.
“OIG’s stonewalling on the release of the documents leads one to suspect an outright cover- up,” declared Fred Stokes, OCM board member. “I am personally convinced that the audit report is in stark variance with the facts found by the OIG investigators,” said Stokes.
OCM has been a leader in reforming the Beef Checkoff and restoring transparency and integrity to the program. Following the troubling findings of the Clifton Gunderson report, OCM brought together a number of cattle industry organizations and individuals to form, the Beef Checkoff Reform Taskforce. Representatives from this taskforce met with the OIG Beef Checkoff investigators in DC at the outset of the audit to share their concerns and pledge their support.
“There is no doubt that NCBA has been empowered by the some $50 million it has received annually for two decades now, and has used its resulting influence to promote the interests of global meat packers and big retailers against the interests of Checkoff-paying cattlemen. It’s now time to bring this regretful affair to light,” explained Stokes. “OCM is confident the records we have requested will clearly demonstrate that NCBA has played fast and loose with U.S. cattlemen’s money,” he said.
Attorneys for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed the complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. HSUS attorneys are providing representation in furtherance of their work to reform the Beef Checkoff on behalf of organizations like OCM and to prevent misuses of the program for activities detrimental to animal welfare.
For a copy of the official complaint and or media inquiries, contact: