Agriculture and Food:

Food Safety and Inspection Service's Performance-Based Inspection System

T-RCED-89-53: Published: Jul 31, 1989. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 1989.

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GAO discussed the Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) Performance-Based Inspection System (PBIS), its interim automated system for managing meat and poultry processing plant inspections, involving individual plant information profiles and monitoring plans, inspection scheduling, and an inspection findings database. GAO noted that FSIS: (1) lacked formal mechanisms for tracking system progress and costs; (2) could not implement an inspection coverage component that could have reduced inspection frequency; (3) did not systematically evaluate PBIS-generated inspection schedules to determine their reasonableness and adequacy; (4) lacked a formal testing plan with measurable objectives, criteria, and required performance data to evaluate PBIS; (5) did not use formal, quantitative risk assessments in developing PBIS; and (6) did not apply any of the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) established management controls for the development of automated systems in developing PBIS. GAO also noted that FSIS initiatives to address PBIS equipment, software, and system limitations included: (1) developing a more flexible system for inspectors to exercise their independent judgment; (2) reporting positive as well as negative inspection findings; (3) reexamining inspection level rules; and (4) exploring methods to speed up system processing.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA has established task forces, issued reports, and taken other actions directed at applying life-cycle principles and management controls to PBIS. These actions include plans to encourage greater user involvement, improve IRM planning and budgeting, analyze system requirements, and improve data quality.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to operate PBIS as is and suspend additional investment in equipment and non-maintenance-type software for PBIS until a plan is developed to apply system development life-cycle principles and other management controls to the current and any future system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA has completed a project to prepare the documentation indicated in the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to document the basis, including the rationale and scientific support, for the risk factors and frequencies used by PBIS to schedule inspection tasks.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The USDA program plan includes two studies to evaluate inspection task frequencies and risk factors. Also, an agency directive has established an agency-wide committee to periodically review adequacy of inspection tasks.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to periodically evaluate the reasonableness and adequacy of PBIS-generated inspection tasks to ensure that they protect public health.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency task force has recommended changes to PBIS consistent with the GAO recommendation. An agency directive has been issued to inspection staff clarifying use of schedules.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to issue a directive to inspection staff clarifying use of schedules, including the degree of discretion available to inspectors to use their experience and judgment in deciding on the inspection tasks to perform.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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