September 26, 2008

Another congressional negotiation

By Erin Brown

Here we are at the end of week 3. Neither of us can believe how fast the time has gone. The last couple of days have been very busy for us, not to mention everyone else in DC it seems.

Ian already talked about yesterday morning, but I thought I’d fill everyone in on how we rounded out the week. Thursday afternoon I went downtown to a monthly meeting of the Small Business Coalition for Affordable Healthcare at the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) offices. At the meeting, Robert Moran of StrategyOne discussed the results of a survey on the importance of healthcare policies on the voting decisions of small business owners and employees. It was surprising to learn just how large of a voting block small business personnel are in the grand scheme of things. Up until this recent financial crisis, healthcare was situated to become a major topic for the next Congress. Now however, the feeling at the meeting was that rather than one large comprehensive healthcare reform bill, instead the same work will be accomplished by attaching segments of the legislation to any financial reform bills. As a result of this, we also spent a brief period of time discussing the financial bail-out (or whatever you prefer to call it) and how it might affect small business interests politically for the next session. As right now there is still nothing concrete, it was a lot of conjecture, but it still made for interesting conversation.

In the evening, Dr. Michael Gilsdorf, Executive Vice President of the National Association of Federal Veterinarians (NAFV), invited Ian and me to attend the monthly meeting of the DCVMA. This was a great experience in getting to meet even more veterinarians from the DC area, but also to see how local concerns are addressed and potentially referred to the AVMA House of Delegates for support. They told us about some programs they have established around Washington, DC, and involved us in a conversation about what federal veterinarians, both through their departments and through the NAFV, can do to recruit young veterinarians into federal employment. They, like the rural food animal vets, are facing a severe shortage in the next few years as people change careers or retire. Dr. Gilsdorf then gave a presentation on what the NAFV does for its members, as well as some of the political issues it is pursuing. This was very interesting, as I was unaware of the some of the special problems they have to deal with while working within the governmental structures.

This morning, Ian and I traveled out to Riverdale, MD to meet with Dr. Dean Goeldner, Staff Veterinarian/Wildlife Disease Liaison in USDA-APHIS. His main focus is on Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), especially in farmed deer and elk. It was fascinating to learn about how the system is set up to monitor and test for CWD, and also how difficult it is to come up with a control program when the production system places different values on certain animals than what the meat market would suggest. To learn more about CWD and the response to it, click here. Dr. Goeldner has had a very interesting career path, and it was good to learn about all the different positions he’s held, veterinary or not, as a result of his degree and knowledge.

After that we met with Patrice Klein, Senior Staff Veterinarian – Avian Disease Specialist, also with APHIS. Dr. Klein told us about new guidelines that have been developed for a prevention and control program for low-pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI). We had a great discussion about how and why they are attempting to regulate LPAI, especially in the context of fears about high-pathogenicity strains. We discussed how difficult it is to come up with good control programs when taking into account the livelihood of the producer. She also stated that she thought that’s why the poultry industry has been so proactive in coming up with prevention programs on their own.

As you can tell, there are a lot of different opportunities in the USDA for veterinarians, but there are also veterinarians in every other branch of government! It has truly been an enlightening experience out here, as I didn’t even begin to comprehend the opportunities available.