Year 2000 Computing Challenge:

Readiness of USDA High-Impact Programs Improving, But More Action Is Needed

AIMD-99-284: Published: Sep 30, 1999. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) actions to ensure the year 2000 readiness of its high impact food assistance and food safety programs.

GAO noted that: (1) although USDA's lead agencies have taken actions and made progress in ensuring the year 2000 readiness of high impact programs assigned to them, USDA's Food and Nutrition Service and USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) still have a long way to go within the limited time remaining to fully meet their high impact program responsibilities; (2) for example, the agencies have taken action to identify partners involved in delivering the high impact programs and to collect data on the year 2000 readiness of these partners; (3) however, when identifying partners, FSIS did not identify all federal agencies and foreign countries engaged in food safety; (4) therefore, the year 2000 readiness of the safety of the nation's food supply may not be assured, especially since the Food Safety Inspection program is the only program on the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) list of 43 that addresses food safety; and (5) moreover, much work remains because neither agency has defined the milestones for the following activities called for by OMB: (a) completing complementary business continuity and contingency plans; (b) publicly demonstrating the year 2000 readiness of programs; and (c) developing a plan to ensure the programs will operate effectively.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA agreed with the recommendation and began immediate steps to implement it. Specifically, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), in accordance with OMB M-99-12, named the state inspection programs and the Food and Drug Administration as its High-Impact Program partners. On October 21, 1999, FSIS met with OMB and discussed its Food Safety Inspection partnering approach. FSIS also consulted with FDA on its mission critical systems and on other aspects of its Year 2000 preparedness and requested and received updated Year 2000 progress information from the state inspection programs. At least in part as a result, USDA's FSIS successfully transitioned into the year 2000 with no disruption in its programs or services.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct that the USDA's Undersecretary for Food Safety and the Chief Information Officer (CIO) reach agreement with OMB on which federal agencies and foreign countries should be partners in helping to ensure the year 2000 readiness of the food safety high impact area.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA agreed with the recommendation and, working with the Office of the CIO, USDA's lead agencies--i.e., Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)--took steps to implement GAO's recommendation to help ensure the Year 2000 readiness of USDA's high-impact programs. Specifically, both agencies continuously worked with their partners on the completion of BCCPs and the development of plans to ensure that programs operated effectively throughout the Year 2000 transition. Among other actions taken, FSIS held a public event to demonstrate Year 2000 readiness of USDA's food safety programs and FNS engaged a contractor to review state Year 2000 preparedness. Regular updates on the progress made were provided to Secretary. At least in part as a result, USDA successfully transitioned into the year 2000 and USDA reported that all its high-impact programs were operational and operating normally.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct that USDA's Undersecretaries for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services and for Food Safety, in conjunction with the CIO, establish specific milestones to: (1) complete complementary business continuity and contingency plans; (2) demonstrate readiness with a program event; and (3) develop an overall plan to ensure year 2000 readiness for each program, and then report regularly to the Secretary on progress made to meet these recommendations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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