Saturday, November 23, 2002

USDA suspends regional director

Farm agency head under investigation

The Associated Press

LEBANON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has removed the director of a regional farm agency office from his job until an investigation is completed.

Michael G. Harper, 54, was removed Wednesday as director of the Warren and Butler County office of the Farm Service Agency while the agency investigates, officials said. They declined to say why Mr. Harper was removed, what the allegations are or how long the investigation will take.

Mr. Harper, who has been with the USDA for 30 years, declined Friday to disclose what the allegations against him are.

Asked if he had been told what his long-term status with the agency will be, Mr. Harper replied: "I don't know yet."

An interim director was appointed to run the office in Mr. Harper's place.

"It's been referred to us. We'll take a look at it," said Sharon Friend of the USDA inspector general's office. Ms. Friend declined further comment.

A message left Friday with the inspector general's office in Washington was not returned.

The Farm Service Agency was set up in 1994 as part of a reorganization of the USDA. It combined programs from the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service and the Farmers Home Administration.

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