Imported Foods:

Opportunities to Improve FDA's Inspection Program

HRD-89-88: Published: Apr 28, 1989. Publicly Released: May 15, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) imported food inspection activities, focusing on: (1) how staff responsible for inspecting imported products allocated their time; and (2) areas where FDA could improve operational efficiency.

GAO found that: (1) during an average work week in 1988, 226 FDA district office staff performed import inspection tasks; (2) staff spent an average of 38 percent of their time on paperwork processing, 13 percent on travel to and from inspection sites, and 22 percent on physical inspections; (3) district offices varied widely in time spent on tasks, with travel ranging from 1 percent to 22 percent of staff time and paperwork ranging from 20 percent to 57 percent of time; (4) some district offices routinely conducted more inspections in less time than other district offices; and (5) FDA has implemented some of the recommendations from three studies it has conducted of its imported food inspection program since 1984. GAO also found that FDA: (1) could develop an automated entry review system similar to one the Customs Service developed to reduce time spent on paperwork; (2) is developing the Import Support and Information System, an automated data-retrieval tracking system which includes an entry review component, but does not expect it to be available for several years; and (3) did not believe that establishing centralized examination facilities similar to those Customs implemented would reduce staff travel time.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The FDA Office of Management and Operations found that efficiencies noted in one district could not necessarily be transferred to another office.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner, FDA, to assess whether some district offices are more efficient and productive than others and, if so, whether the practices of the better-performing offices could benefit FDA nationwide import inspection operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FDA established an automated Import Support and Information System for processing information on imported products. Eight FDA district offices utilize the system.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner, FDA, to determine whether the automation of the paperwork review task can be expedited.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FDA staff was encouraged to use the Custom Service's centralized examination stations whenever possible and practical. Mandatory use of such stations is inappropriate because they are co-located with entry ports.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner, FDA, to examine the feasibility of expanding the use of centralized facilities in conjunction with the Customs Service for inspection of imported products, especially in offices whose inspectors spend a large percentage of their time travelling.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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