Plum Island Animal Disease Center: DHS and USDA Are Successfully Coordinating Current Work, but Long-Term Plans Are Being Assessed

GAO-06-132 Published: Dec 19, 2005. Publicly Released: Dec 19, 2005.
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Highlights

The livestock industry, which contributes over $100 billion annually to the national economy, is vulnerable to foreign animal diseases that, if introduced in the United States, could cause severe economic losses. To protect against such losses, critical research and diagnostic activities are conducted at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) was responsible for Plum Island until June 2003, when provisions of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 transferred the facility to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Under an interagency agreement, USDA continues to work on foreign animal diseases at the island. GAO examined (1) DHS and USDA coordination of research and diagnostic activities, (2) changes in research and diagnostic priorities since the transfer, and (3) long-term objectives of joint activities at Plum Island.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Directorate of Science and Technology To make more effective use of Plum Island's limited laboratory space in the short term, DHS's Science and Technology Directorate, in consultation with USDA's Agricultural Research Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, should pursue opportunities to shift work that does not require the unique features of Plum Island to other institutions and research centers.
Closed – Implemented
According to DHS's Under Secretary of Science and Technology, the agency is working closely with USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and Agriculture Research Service to pursue opportunities to shift work that does not require the unique features of Plum Island, to other institutions and research centers. For example, DHS is doing safety testing of livestock at Biosafety level 2 laboratories on the mainland using a new non live virus vaccine. In addition, in collaboration with DHS's Centers of Excellence for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease, the agency is pursuing opportunities to develop reagents and conduct genomic work at off-island partner facilities.

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