A new Government Accountability Office report found that suggested changes recommended in 2006 to improve the Agriculture Quarantine Inspection program have been implemented, but four of the seven recommendations aren't working properly.
The Department of Homeland Security and the USDA were charged with implementing the suggested changes. The GAO says the two departments have not been able to fully implement meaningful performance measures, establish a national risk-based staffing model, improve the agriculture canine (inspection) program and revise user fees to cover program costs.
The AQI program, GAO says, uses data on imports to determine the efficiency of agricultural import inspections. This includes the ability to identify prohibited materials and review port performance, but the GAO says variability in data collection may have resulted in inaccurate data.
As a result of the recent study, the GAO recommended to the DHS and USDA more actions to address the problems identified. They include: improving protection from accidental or deliberate introduction of pests or diseases through accurate data collection and a series of monitoring and progress reports; improving data collection and training for the canine program; and implementing new AQI staffing plans.
GAO says AQI management is specifically important to avoid lost agricultural revenue.
"The Asian Longhorned Beetle has destroyed more than 30,000 trees in Illinois, New Jersey, and New York since it was discovered in 1996 in imported cargo, and it remains a significant problem today," the GAO report states. "Damages for this infestation have been estimated at more than $269 million, and according to the USDA, if the infestation were to expand nationwide, it could cause more than $41 billion in losses."
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 also heightened awareness of agriculture's vulnerability to terrorism, the GAO reports. As a result of the attacks, a 2002 security bill added oversight by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to DHS control.
"Concerns persist that the agriculture sector remains vulnerable to the unintentional or deliberate introduction of pests and disease," the GAO report says, which was the key reason for a congressional request for an audit.
The audit was conducted from August 2011 to September 2012. The full GAO report, "Agriculture Inspection Program Has Made Some Improvements, but Management Challenges Persist," can be found on the GAO website.