To trim costs, Obama’s FY 2012 budget calls fora “reduction of staff years” at the USDA. To keep from alarming USDA employees, Vilsack walked softly.

“I want to be careful how I say this because there are ways you can manage reductions without necessarily impacting folks who obviously want and need employment opportunities.

“We have normal attrition that occurs every year. We have a very aggressive process improvement effort underway. That identifies ways we can do our work more efficiently, which can free up resources. And we have a commitment to technology that makes us able to do our jobs more effectively and efficiently.

“When you combine all of those and look at management tools like early retirement programs and things of that sort, you can manage the reduction of a workforce without necessarily focusing on layoffs and things of that nature. That’s what we propose to do.”

Attrition occurs annually. “Rather than filling those jobs – or filling those jobs with a person at the same level – there are ways we can look at our supervisor-to-employee ratio. These are all management techniques and processes that are important to do…

“But sometimes it takes time to institute them. This budget reflects a commitment to process improvement, to using technology, to taking a look at decisions we make when folks retire.”