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Highlights

The President issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) -9 in 2004 to establish a national policy to defend the food and agriculture systems against terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. HSPD-9 assigns various emergency response and recovery responsibilities to the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Health and Human Services (HHS), Homeland Security (DHS), and others. In addition, Emergency Support Function (ESF) -11 addresses the federal food and agriculture response during emergencies and is coordinated by USDA. GAO was asked to evaluate (1) the extent to which there is oversight of federal agencies' overall progress in implementing HSPD-9; (2) the steps USDA has taken to implement its HSPD-9 responsibilities for response and recovery and challenges, if any; and (3) the circumstances under which USDA has coordinated an ESF-11 response and challenges it faces, if any. GAO reviewed key documents; surveyed states; and interviewed agency, state, and industry officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security To help ensure that the federal government is effectively implementing the nation's food and agriculture defense policy, the Secretary of Homeland Security should resume DHS's efforts to coordinate agencies' overall HSPD-9 implementation efforts.
Closed - Implemented
In response to GAO's August 2011 recommendation, DHS has compiled a report by the DHS Biodefense Knowledge Center on agencies' efforts to implement HSPD-9--the nation's policy to defend the food and agriculture systems against potential terrorist attacks and major disasters. According to DHS officials, the purpose of the report, entitled "Interagency Implementation of HSPD-9 for the Protection of U.S. Food and Agriculture: Progress in the First 10 years," was to track the progress of HSPD-9 implementation over the past ten years. In addition, DHS officials told us that DHS leads several interagency working groups that meet regularly and discuss topics related to HSPD-9. This fulfills the intent of this recommendation.
Homeland Security Council To help ensure that the federal government is effectively implementing the nation's food and agriculture defense policy, the Homeland Security Council should direct the National Security Staff to establish an interagency process that would provide oversight of agencies' implementation of HSPD-9.
Closed - Implemented
In response to GAO's August 2011 recommendation, the National Security Staff has taken steps to establish an interagency process to provide oversight of agencies' implementation of HSPD-9, including research and development, surveillance, prevention, and response capabilities. Specifically, the National Security Staff told GAO in December 2013 that they have co-hosted (with the Office of Science and Technology Policy) meetings for an interagency working group that is chaired by the Department of Homeland Security. The working group met three times in 2013 and includes partners from the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, State, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, as well as U.S. Geological Services and the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the National Security Staff, recent interagency meetings have discussed topics related to HSPD-9. The National Security Staff also told GAO in December 2013 that they plan to continue to oversee agencies' implementation of HSPD-9 through the working group.
Homeland Security Council To help ensure that the federal government is effectively implementing the nation's food and agriculture defense policy, the Homeland Security Council should direct the National Security Staff to encourage agencies to participate in and contribute information to DHS's efforts to coordinate agencies' implementation of HSPD-9.
Closed - Implemented
In response to GAO's August 2011 recommendation, the National Security Staff has co-hosted an interagency working group to encourage agencies to participate in and contribute information to DHS's efforts to coordinate agencies' implementation of HSDP-9. Specifically, National Security Staff officials told GAO in December 2013 that they have co-hosted (with the Office of Science and Technology Policy) meetings for an interagency working group that is chaired by DHS. The working group met three times in 2013 and includes partners from the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, State, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, as well as U.S. Geological Services and the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the National Security Staff, recent interagency meetings have discussed topics related to HSPD-9, including research and development, surveillance, prevention, and response capabilities. The National Security Staff also told GAO in December 2013 that they plan to continue to oversee agencies' implementation of HSPD-9 through the working group. DHS officials also told GAO in November 2013 that, throughout the previous 18 months, the National Security Staff had invested effort and expressed interest in the interagency working group and that the National Security Staff has been involved in discussions about DHS's assessment of agencies' implementation of HSPD-9. DHS officials told GAO that they appreciate the National Security Staff's support.
Department of Agriculture To ensure the most effective use of resources and to resolve any confusion, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services should jointly determine on a periodic basis if there are appropriate opportunities for the National Veterinary Stockpile (NVS) to leverage Strategic National Stockpile mechanisms or infrastructure as directed by HSPD-9. If such opportunities exist, the two agencies should formally agree upon a process for the NVS to use the identified mechanisms and infrastructure.
Closed - Implemented
In response to GAO's August 2011 recommendation, the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) have met periodically to determine if there are opportunities for NVS to leverage the SNS's mechanisms or infrastructure and have taken steps to develop a Memorandum of Agreement to formalize their relationship. Officials from both NVS and SNS told us that, in March 2014, the two programs shared lessons learned from previous SNS and NVS exercises. In December 2014, officials from USDA and HHS signed a Memorandum of Agreement to formalize their relationship and outline opportunities for future collaboration.
Department of Agriculture To improve USDA's performance as ESF-11 coordinator and to address issues experienced by key parties, such as challenges with pet sheltering, the Secretary of Agriculture should develop a process for ensuring that (1) following all ESF-11 activations, after-action reports are consistently completed and shared with key parties involved in each activation; (2) the perspectives of key parties are incorporated in these reports; (3) any identified gaps or challenges are addressed through corrective actions; and (4) the completed after-action reports are used to provide a complete, accurate, and consistent count of ESF-11 activations over time, in turn producing sufficiently reliable data on ESF-11 activations.
Closed - Implemented
USDA officials told us in September 2014 that ESF-11 after-action reports are consistently completed and shared with key parties after each ESF-11 activation. They are now also posted on USDA's website, and USDA officials told us that perspectives of key parties are incorporated in the after-action reports. In addition, DHS updated the National Response Framework ESF Annexes in 2013, and pet sheltering is no longer a primary function under ESF-11; instead, it now falls under ESF-6, which is coordinated by DHS.
Department of Health and Human Services To ensure the most effective use of resources and to resolve any confusion, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services should jointly determine on a periodic basis if there are appropriate opportunities for the National Veterinary Stockpile (NVS) to leverage Strategic National Stockpile mechanisms or infrastructure as directed by HSPD-9. If such opportunities exist, the two agencies should formally agree upon a process for the NVS to use the identified mechanisms and infrastructure.
Closed - Implemented
In response to GAO's August 2011 recommendation, the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) have met periodically to determine if there are opportunities for NVS to leverage the SNS's mechanisms or infrastructure and have taken steps to develop a Memorandum of Agreement to formalize their relationship. Officials from both NVS and SNS told us that, in March 2014, the two programs shared lessons learned from previous SNS and NVS exercises. In December 2014, officials from USDA and HHS signed a Memorandum of Agreement to formalize their relationship and outline opportunities for future collaboration.
Department of Agriculture To help ensure that the nation is adequately prepared to recover from high-consequence plant diseases, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), in coordination with relevant USDA agencies, to develop and implement a documented, systematic process to track research gaps identified in the National Plant Disease Recovery System (NPDRS) recovery plans and monitor progress in filling these gaps.
Closed - Implemented
In response to GAO's August 2011 recommendation, USDA has taken steps to develop a process to track research gaps identified in NPDRS recovery plans and monitor progress in filling these gaps. USDA officials told GAO in November 2013 that the department's Agricultural Research Service has planned annual meetings with relevant USDA agencies, other federal agencies, and the American Phytopathological Society--a nonprofit partner dedicated to the study and control of plant diseases--to provide coordination and tracking among federal, state, and local agencies and the private industry sector. In March 2015, USDA officials told us that they now track research progress, including filling gaps identified in recovery plans, when NPDRS recovery plans are revised. According to USDA officials, each recovery plan update includes specific documentation of new publications in scientific journals and Internet addresses with new electronic information. Officials noted that each revised recovery plan highlights significant research advances and points out either new or continuing research needs.
Department of Agriculture To help ensure that the nation is adequately prepared to recover from high-consequence plant diseases, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of ARS, in coordination with relevant USDA agencies, to develop and implement a mechanism to ensure NPDRS recovery plans are shared with key state and federal plant health officials.
Closed - Implemented
USDA told us in September 2014 that the agency has taken steps to share NPDRS recovery plans through meetings, workshops and conferences. USDA developed a new website and shared NPDRS recovery plans with other federal programs, such as USDA's Invasive Species Coordination Program.
Department of Agriculture
Priority Rec.
Priority recommendations are those that GAO believes warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies.
To ensure that USDA is fulfilling its responsibilities to protect the nation's food and agriculture systems, the Secretary of Agriculture should develop a department-wide strategy for implementing its HSPD-9 responsibilities. Such a strategy would include an overarching framework for setting priorities, as well as allocating resources.
Closed - Implemented
In response to GAO's August 2011 recommendation, in July 2015 USDA developed a document to track USDA's efforts to implement its HSPD-9 responsibilities, and USDA intends to update this document each year. According to USDA officials, the department also coordinated with National Security Policy Staff to gather data and to determine next steps to meet the requirements of HSPD-9. Furthermore, according to USDA, USDA's HSPD-9 responsibilities strategy document was central in the development of the 2015 Food and Agriculture Sector Specific Plan, which includes priorities for the next 5 years and is used by USDA and other agencies to justify resource requests.
Department of Homeland Security To expedite response and recovery from major emergencies, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of DHS's Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA), in coordination with key agencies to provide guidance that clarifies the roles and responsibilities agencies will have regarding the disposal of animal carcasses in emergencies for which ESF-11 is activated.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2014, DHS officials told us that it developed a fact sheet on public assistance for animal carcass removal and disposal. The fact sheet describes what assistance may be available from FEMA or other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency, for the removal and disposal of animal carcasses. The fact sheet also includes "frequently asked questions" that address issues such as which animals are eligible for carcass removal and disposal.

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