Homeland Security:

Management and Coordination Problems Increase the Vulnerability of U.S. Agriculture to Foreign Pests and Disease

GAO-06-644: Published: May 19, 2006. Publicly Released: May 19, 2006.

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U.S. agriculture generates over $1 trillion in annual economic activity, but concerns exist about the sector's vulnerability to a natural or deliberate introduction of foreign livestock, poultry, and crop pests and disease. Under the Agricultural Quarantine Inspection (AQI) program, international passengers and cargo are inspected at U.S. ports of entry to seize prohibited material and intercept foreign agricultural pests. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 transferred AQI inspections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and left certain other AQI responsibilities at USDA. GAO examined (1) the extent to which USDA and DHS have changed the inspection program since the transfer, (2) how the agencies have managed and coordinated their responsibilities, and (3) how funding for agricultural inspections has been managed since the transfer.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, federal agencies' roles and responsibilities were modified to help protect agriculture. In March 2003, more than 1,800 agriculture specialists within USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) became DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees, while USDA retained responsibility for AQI activities such as setting inspection policy, providing training, and collecting user fees. Since the transfer, the agencies have expanded training on agriculture issues for CBP officers and agriculture specialists. CBP and APHIS also have taken steps to enable agriculture specialists to better target shipments and passengers for inspections and established a process to assess how CBP agriculture specialists are implementing AQI policy. Finally, CBP created a new agriculture liaison position in each of its district field offices to advise regional directors on agricultural issues. While these are positive steps, the agencies face management and coordination problems that increase the vulnerability of U.S. agriculture to foreign pests and disease. CBP has not developed sufficient performance measures that take into account the agency's expanded mission or consider all pathways by which prohibited agricultural items or foreign pests may enter the country. Specifically, although CBP's measures focus on two pathways that pose a risk to U.S. agriculture, they do not consider other key pathways such as commercial aircraft, vessels, and truck cargo. Also, although CBP has hired more than 630 specialists since the transfer, it has not yet developed or used a risk-based staffing model to ensure that adequate numbers of agriculture specialists are staffed to areas of greatest vulnerability. CBP also has not used available inspection and interception data to evaluate the performance of the AQI program. CBP and APHIS also continue to experience difficulty in sharing information such as key policy changes and urgent inspection alerts, and CBP has allowed the number and proficiency of agriculture canine units to decline. Although APHIS is legally authorized (though not required) to charge AQI user fees to cover program costs, we found that the agencies have not taken the necessary steps to ensure that user fees cover AQI costs. Consequently, the agencies had to use other authorized funding sources to pay for the program. Also, because of weaknesses in the design of CBP's new financial management system, CBP was unable to provide APHIS with information on the actual costs of the AQI program by user-fee type--for example, fees paid by international air passengers. APHIS uses this information to set future user-fee rates. Finally, in fiscal years 2004 and 2005, APHIS did not transfer AQI funds to CBP as agreed to by both agencies, causing some ports of entry to reduce spending on inspection activities in fiscal year 2005.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness of CBP and APHIS agricultural quarantine inspection programs designed to protect U.S. agriculture from accidental or deliberate introduction of foreign pests and disease, the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Agriculture should work together to adopt meaningful performance measures for assessing the AQI program's effectiveness at intercepting foreign pests and disease on agricultural materials entering the country by all pathways--including commercial aircraft, vessels, and truck cargo--and posing a risk to U.S. agriculture.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA formed a Joint Data Analysis group with DHS that meets quarterly to share and review data on agricultural quarantine inspection performance measures. The agencies developed two new performance measures for the agricultural mission: (1) number of pest interceptions at ports of entry; and (2) number of quarantine material interceptions seized at ports of entry. The performance measures are also designed to facilitate USDA's ability to conduct and provide pest risk assessments.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness of CBP and APHIS agricultural quarantine inspection programs designed to protect U.S. agriculture from accidental or deliberate introduction of foreign pests and disease, the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Agriculture should work together to adopt meaningful performance measures for assessing the AQI program's effectiveness at intercepting foreign pests and disease on agricultural materials entering the country by all pathways--including commercial aircraft, vessels, and truck cargo--and posing a risk to U.S. agriculture.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS and USDA formed a Joint Data Analysis group that meets quarterly to share and review data on agricultural quarantine inspection performance measures. DHS initiated two new performance measures for the agriculture mission: 1) number of pests intercepted at ports of entry, and (2) number of quarantine material interceptions seized at ports of entry. The performance measures are linked to the DHS's strategic plan, as well as to the strategic plan for DHS's Customs and Border Protection. The performance measures also facilitate USDA's ability to conduct and provide pest risk assessments.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness of CBP and APHIS agricultural quarantine inspection programs designed to protect U.S. agriculture from accidental or deliberate introduction of foreign pests and disease, the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Agriculture should work together to establish a process to identify and assess the major risks posed by foreign pests and disease and develop and implement a national staffing model to ensure that agriculture staffing levels at each port are sufficient to meet those risks.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA used its existing staffing model as a starting point for discussions with DHS, and the agencies worked together to modify the model to meet DHS's needs. The 2007 staffing model that resulted showed that DHS would need several thousand additional Customs and Border Protection Officers and Agricultural Specialists at ports of entry. In addition, the agencies established a joint Trend Analysis Working Group to analyze and predict the highest risk areas in the cargo pathways.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness of CBP and APHIS agricultural quarantine inspection programs designed to protect U.S. agriculture from accidental or deliberate introduction of foreign pests and disease, the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Agriculture should work together to establish a process to identify and assess the major risks posed by foreign pests and disease and develop and implement a national staffing model to ensure that agriculture staffing levels at each port are sufficient to meet those risks.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS developed an optimal staffing allocation model for Customs and Border Protection's Officers and Agriculture Specialists at ports of entry. The 2007 model addresses staffing needs and adjusts to changes in workload, processing time, complexity and threat levels. The model showed that several thousand additional Officers and Agricultural Specialists would be needed at ports of entry. In addition, DHS and USDA established a joint Trend Analysis Working Group to analyze and predict the highest risk areas in the cargo pathways.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness of CBP and APHIS agricultural quarantine inspection programs designed to protect U.S. agriculture from accidental or deliberate introduction of foreign pests and disease, the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Agriculture should work together to ensure that urgent agriculture alerts and other information essential to safeguarding U.S. agriculture are more effectively shared between the departments and transmitted to DHS agriculture specialists in the ports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA clarified the contact points in DHS's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for effective communication of urgent agriculture alerts initiated by USDA. In turn, CBP implemented a policy to disseminate all USDA alerts to its field offices and ports of entry within 24 hours of receipt at CBP headquarters. USDA has also provided electronic copies of its manuals to CBP, which are now available on a CBP's agricultural inspection intranet Web site as ready references for its staff.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness of CBP and APHIS agricultural quarantine inspection programs designed to protect U.S. agriculture from accidental or deliberate introduction of foreign pests and disease, the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Agriculture should work together to ensure that urgent agriculture alerts and other information essential to safeguarding U.S. agriculture are more effectively shared between the departments and transmitted to DHS agriculture specialists in the ports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Working with USDA, DHS's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) developed the agricultural inspection intranet Web site as a ready reference for its Agriculture Specialists. The Web site is a depository for all musters, alerts, and links to USDA manuals, updates, and monthly reports from field offices, as well as for other information such as vessel garbage violations and gypsy moth alerts. Once it receives alerts from USDA, CBP's Agriculture Programs Liaison office sends them the same day to CBP's field office directors for dissemination to Agriculture Specialists in the field.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness of CBP and APHIS agricultural quarantine inspection programs designed to protect U.S. agriculture from accidental or deliberate introduction of foreign pests and disease, the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Agriculture should work together to improve the effectiveness of the agriculture canine program by reviewing policies and procedures regarding training and staffing of agriculture canines and ensure that these policies and procedures are followed in the ports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA's National Detector Dog Training Center worked with DHS's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to complete joint standard operating procedures for CBP Agriculture Specialist Canine Training. These procedures govern specialists attending the Basic Canine Officer Training Program at the Center. In addition, USDA worked with CBP's Canine Enforcement Program to review, revise, and develop policies and procedures regarding training and staffing of agriculture canine teams.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness of CBP and APHIS agricultural quarantine inspection programs designed to protect U.S. agriculture from accidental or deliberate introduction of foreign pests and disease, the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Agriculture should work together to improve the effectiveness of the agriculture canine program by reviewing policies and procedures regarding training and staffing of agriculture canines and ensure that these policies and procedures are followed in the ports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) hired an Agriculture Specialist with canine experience to work with CBP's Canine Enforcement Program (CEP), and a Program Manager to focus on recruiting new Agriculture Specialists to the canine program. Together, CBP and USDA's National Detector Dog Training Center established joint standard operating procedures that govern CBP Agriculture Specialists while attending Basic Canine Officer Training at the Center. In addition, the CEP Program Manager serves as the dedicated class coordinator at the Center and briefs all new and returning students on canine policies.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness of CBP and APHIS agricultural quarantine inspection programs designed to protect U.S. agriculture from accidental or deliberate introduction of foreign pests and disease, the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Agriculture should work together to revise the user fees to ensure that they cover the AQI program's costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) revised and validated its agricultural quarantine inspection program costs as an input for USDA to use in setting related user fees. USDA considered these costs when it issued a new rule to adjust the user fee rates, in effect for fiscal year 2011. Effective November 1, 2009, USDA also increased the fees charged for certain agricultural quarantine inspection services. USDA had last adjusted these fees on January 1, 2005, due to the need for increased inspections because of heightened security following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The user fees cover services provided for commercial vessels, trucks, rail cars, and aircraft, as well as for international airline passengers, arriving at U.S. ports of entry. Despite decreases in travel volume and associated fees, inspections and other related support services paid for by these fees have remained the same due to the continued risk of the deliberate or accidental introduction of pests and diseases into the United States. Thus, USDA increased the fees approximately 10 percent for commercial vehicles and international air passengers.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness of CBP and APHIS agricultural quarantine inspection programs designed to protect U.S. agriculture from accidental or deliberate introduction of foreign pests and disease, the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Agriculture should work together to revise the user fees to ensure that they cover the AQI program's costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective November 1, 2009, USDA increased fees charged for certain agricultural quarantine inspection services. USDA last adjusted these fees on January 1, 2005, due to the need for increased inspections because of heightened security following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The fees cover services provided for commercial vessels, trucks, rail cars, and aircraft, as well as for international airline passengers, arriving at U.S. ports of entry. Despite decreases in travel volume and associated fees, inspections and other related support services paid for by the fees have remained the same due to the continued risk of the deliberate or accidental introduction of pests and diseases into the United States. Thus, in order to provide adequate funds for these purposes, APHIS increased the fees approximately 10 percent for commercial vehicles and international air passengers.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should undertake a full review of its financial management systems, policies, and procedures for the AQI program to ensure financial accountability for funds allocated for agricultural quarantine inspections.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has taken several corrective actions since January 2006 to validate all process steps used in extracting expense data from its new accounting and budgeting system to help ensure that all agricultural quarantine inspection related costs are accumulated. For example, according to DHS, CBP's Cost Management Information System is driven by accurate recording of staff hours related to specific activities, the major driver for accurate cost accumulation. To get better information for this system, CBP performed surveys to define the percentages of time staff spent performing customs-, immigration-, and agriculture-related services within the unified "One-Face at the Border" processing environment.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should take steps to assess and remove barriers to the timely and accurate transfer of AQI user fees to DHS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA issued a Statement of Action, in which USDA and DHS revised their agreement to include a provision for making bi-monthly transfers of agriculture quarantine inspection user fees to DHS. At least seven additional corrective actions have been taken by USDA to ensure that user fees are transfered in a timely and accurate manner. For example, to ensure timely transfers, USDA now enters the transfer requests into the Department of the Treasury's Government-Wide Accounting System at the beginning of the month in which the transfers should be approved and accepted and received by DHS.

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