GAO: U.S. agriculture still vulnerable to foreign pests
A congressional watchdog agency cited numerous weaknesses in the Homeland Security and Agriculture departments to effectively protect the country’s livestock and crops against foreign pests.
In March 2003, 1,800 USDA agriculture specialists were transferred from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to Customs and Border Protection. USDA retained responsibility for quarantines and inspection policy, training and user fee collections.
The Government Accountability Office noted in a report that while positive steps have been taken, the agencies “face management and coordination problems that increase vulnerability of U.S. agriculture to foreign pests and disease.” It’s estimated that U.S. agriculture generates more than $1 trillion in economic activity each year.
The GAO specifically noted that CBP has not developed a sufficient program to examine all pathways which pests may enter the country, particularly planes, ships and trucked cargo. The GAO report also pointed out that CBP has not developed a “risk-based staffing model” to determine how many agriculture specialists it should have.
In addition, GAO faulted both CBP and APHIS for their inability to efficiently share information on policy changes and urgent inspection alerts.
GAO report said that CBP has allowed the proficiency of its agriculture canine units to decline and APHIS has failed to take advantage of assessing sufficient user fees to cover the costs of quarantine programs.