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Working Dogs: Federal Agencies Need to Better Address Health and Welfare

GAO-23-104489 Published: Oct 19, 2022. Publicly Released: Oct 19, 2022.
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Fast Facts

Federal agencies use about 5,000 working dogs to detect explosives and narcotics, among other things. They also provide about a thousand dogs to foreign countries to support law enforcement and antiterrorism efforts.

Federal agencies addressed many of the 18 issues we identified as important to working dog health and welfare, such as exercise and routine veterinary care. But about half of the federally-managed and contractor-managed agency programs don't address abuse or neglect. One contractor-managed program addressed none of the identified issues.

Our recommendations would help all agencies ensure the humane treatment of working dogs.

Transportation security inspector team screening air cargo

An inspector with a working dog screening green cargo boxes covered in plastic and behind a metal barrier.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

As of February 2022, about 5,100 working dogs served the federal government in 40 federally managed programs within eight departments and three independent agencies. In addition, approximately 400 working dogs served the federal government in 24 contractor-managed programs within eight departments and two independent agencies. Officials from federally and contractor-managed working dog programs most commonly reported using working dogs to detect explosives (see fig.) or narcotics, among other things.

Working Dog Searching for Explosives at a U.S. Airport, and the 18 Issues That GAO Identified as Important to Working Dog Health and Welfare

Working Dog Searching for Explosives at a U.S. Airport, and the 18 Issues That GAO Identified as Important to Working Dog Health and Welfare

Federally and contractor-managed working dog programs address the health and welfare of dogs in policies and contract-related documents. Some of these programs' policies address all 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs (see fig.), but most do not. For example, about half of the federally managed programs do not address abuse and neglect or requirements for rest and duration of on-duty working time in their policies. Similarly, about half of the contractor-managed programs do not address abuse and neglect or how to handle working dog retirement or euthanasia decisions in their contract-related documents. One contractor-managed program did not address any of the 18 important issues GAO identified.

Three Department of State programs were providing more than 1,000 working dogs to foreign partners, primarily for explosives and narcotics detection, as of February 2022. All three State Department programs have standards to help ensure that foreign partners are maintaining the health and welfare of these dogs. One of the three programs addressed all 18 health and welfare issues, while the other two did not. Addressing all 18 of the issues GAO identified for federally managed programs, future contracts, and standards for foreign partners, as appropriate, can help ensure that federal agencies adequately provide for the health and welfare of their working dogs. This, in turn, would help ensure the dogs' humane treatment and optimal performance.

Why GAO Did This Study

GAO and some agencies' Offices of Inspector General have previously identified concerns with the management of federal working dog programs. These concerns include past mistreatment of working dogs that the U.S. government provided to foreign governments for antiterrorism assistance.

Senate Report 116-236 contains a provision for GAO to review the use of working dogs across the federal government. This report examines (1) the number of working dogs used by federal agencies, and their roles; (2) the extent to which federal agencies' policies and contract-related documents address the health and welfare of working dogs they use; and (3) the number of working dogs the U.S. government provides to foreign partners, and the standards to protect the health and welfare of these dogs.

GAO identified 18 issues important to the health and welfare of working dogs, analyzed working dog program documents to determine whether they addressed these issues, and interviewed agency officials.

Recommendations

GAO is making 19 recommendations to agencies to ensure that their policies and future contracts address, as appropriate, all 18 health and welfare issues. Of the 16 agencies that reviewed this report, 11 concurred with the recommendations; four did not comment on them. The Department of Energy partially concurred with its two recommendations, indicating that it would evaluate the applicability of the issues. GAO continues to believe that addressing all 18 issues is important.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Justice The Attorney General should direct all of the Department of Justice's agencies with federally managed working dog programs to revise their policies, as necessary, to ensure that they address all of the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. (Recommendation 1)
Open – Partially Addressed
In April 2023, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued an updated Operational Canine Program Policy Guide that addresses the issue related to the health and welfare of working dogs that that the agency previously did not address. Similarly, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has issued updated standard operating procedures related to canine health maintenance for their Explosives Detection Canine Team in November 2022 and for their Special Response Team in January 2023 that address the issues related to the health and welfare of working dogs that that these programs previously did not address. As of February 2024, this recommendation is still open pending implementation by the U.S. Marshals Service.
National Railroad Passenger Corporation The Chief Executive Officer of Amtrak should direct the Amtrak Police to revise its policies, as necessary, to ensure that they address all of the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. (Recommendation 2)
Open
As of July 2023, we are working with the agency to update the status of the recommendation.
Department of Agriculture The Secretary of Agriculture should direct all of the Department of Agriculture's agencies with federally managed working dog programs to revise their policies, as necessary, to ensure that they address all of the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. (Recommendation 3)
Closed – Implemented
In May 2023, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issued an updated standard operating procedures manual for their National Detector Dog Training Center that addresses the issue important to the health and welfare of working dogs that the agency previously did not address. In September 2023, USDA's Forest Service updated two sections of the Forest Service Manual related to 1) law enforcement equipment and 2) law enforcement suitability requirements, training, and standards to address all issues important to the health and welfare of working dogs that the agency previously did not address. As a result, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should, through the Secretary of the Air Force as the executive agent for the Military Working Dog Program, direct all of the Department of Defense's agencies with federally managed working dog programs to revise their policies, as necessary, to ensure that they address all of the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. (Recommendation 4)
Open
In January 2024, DOD informed us that it is in the process of revising DOD Directive 5200.31E, "DOD Working Dog Program," to direct DOD components with working dogs to ensure that their policies address the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. DOD estimated this action would take place by September 2024. Until that occurs, this recommendation remains open.
Department of Energy The Secretary of Energy should direct all of the Department of Energy's agencies with federally managed working dog programs to revise their policies, as necessary, to ensure that they address all of the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. (Recommendation 5)
Closed – Implemented
In June 2023, DOE's Office of Security issued a Memorandum for Distribution with a policy clarification on GAO's report on the welfare of working dogs. The DOE memo clarifies that DOE Canine Programs, in addition to existing requirements, must include documented plans for the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. As a result, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of Health and Human Services The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the National Institute of Health Police to revise their policies, as necessary, to ensure that they address all of the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. (Recommendation 6)
Closed – Implemented
In July 2023, the National Institute of Health Police issued a revised directive on canine administration that addresses the issues important to the health and welfare of working dogs that the agency previously did not address. As such, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct all of the Department of Homeland Security's agencies with federally managed working dog programs to revise their policies, as necessary, to ensure that they address all of the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. (Recommendation 7)
Closed – Implemented
In June 2023, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a revised DHS Canine Policy that addresses all 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. The revised policy further notes that it is "applicable to all current and future canine programs, whether federally managed or contractor-managed, within organizational entities in DHS." As a result, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of the Interior The Secretary of the Interior should direct all of the Department of the Interior's agencies with federally managed working dog programs to revise their policies, as necessary, to ensure that they address all of the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. (Recommendation 8)
Open
In January 2024, Interior provided information on actions taken by the Fish and Wildlife Service to address our recommendation. As of February 2024, we are evaluating this information and awaiting information on actions taken by other Interior entities to implement this recommendation.
Tennessee Valley Authority The Chief Executive Officer of the Tennessee Valley Authority should direct the Tennessee Valley Authority Police to revise the agency's policies, as necessary, to ensure that they address all of the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. (Recommendation 9)
Open
As of February 2024, we are awaiting information from the agency on any actions taken to implement the recommendation.
Department of Justice The Attorney General should direct all of the Department of Justice's agencies with contractor-managed working dog programs to ensure that all 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs are addressed, as appropriate, in future contracts. (Recommendation 10)
Closed – Implemented
In June 2023, the United States Marshall Service (USMS) issued a memo stating, "All current and future USMS contracts for K9 [canine] services must address the 18 identified issues by the GAO for the health and wellbeing of all K9s covered by a contract with the USMS." Because USMS was the only Department of Justice agency with a contractor-managed working dog program at the time of our report, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should direct all of the Department of Commerce's agencies with contractor-managed working dog programs to ensure that all 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs are addressed, as appropriate, in future contracts. (Recommendation 11)
Closed – Implemented
In the first few months of 2023, the Department of Commerce's Director for Security circulated memoranda to bureau procurement officials and directors of security instructing them to ensure that any future contracts for canine services appropriately address the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. Commerce officials also shared these instructions with all Office of Security personnel through a quarterly newsletter in March 2023. As such, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should, through the Secretary of the Air Force as the executive agent for the Military Working Dog Program, direct all of the Department of Defense's agencies with contractor-managed working dog programs to ensure that all 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs are addressed, as appropriate, in future contracts. (Recommendation 12)
Open
In January 2024, DOD informed us that it is in the process of revising DOD Directive 5200.31E, "DOD Working Dog Program," to direct DOD components with working dogs to ensure that their policies specify that the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs are addressed, as appropriate, in future contracts. DOD estimated this action would take place by September 2024. Until that occurs, this recommendation remains open.
Department of Energy The Secretary of Energy should direct all of the Department of Energy's agencies with contractor-managed working dog programs to ensure that all 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs are addressed, as appropriate, in future contracts. (Recommendation 13)
Closed – Implemented
In June 2023, DOE's Office of Security issued a Memorandum for Distribution with a policy clarification on GAO's report on the welfare of working dogs. The DOE memo clarifies that DOE Canine Programs, in addition to existing requirements, must include documented plans for the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. As a result, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct all of the Department of Homeland Security's agencies with contractor-managed working dog programs to ensure that all 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs are addressed, as appropriate, in future contracts. (Recommendation 14)
Closed – Implemented
In June 2023, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a revised DHS Canine Policy that addresses all 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. The revised policy further notes that it is "applicable to all current and future canine programs, whether federally managed or contractor-managed, within organizational entities in DHS." As a result, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of the Interior The Secretary of the Interior should direct all of the Department of the Interior's agencies with contractor-managed working dog programs to ensure that all 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs are addressed, as appropriate, in future contracts. (Recommendation 15)
Open – Partially Addressed
In March 2023, the Bureau of Reclamation issued a revised customer service package template that incorporate by reference the 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. We await information on actions taken by the other Interior entity with contractor-managed working dog programs: the National Park Service - Park Police. As of February 2024, this recommendation remains open.
Smithsonian Institution The Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution should direct the Smithsonian Institution's Office of Protective Services to ensure that all 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs are addressed, as appropriate, in future contracts. (Recommendation 16)
Open
As of July 2023, we are working with the agency to update the status of the recommendation.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct all of the Department of State's bureaus with contractor-managed working dog programs to ensure that all 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs are addressed, as appropriate, in future contracts. (Recommendation 17)
Open
As of July 2023, we are working with the agency to update the status of the recommendation.
Department of the Treasury The Secretary of the Treasury should direct all of the Department of the Treasury's agencies with contractor-managed working dog programs to ensure that all 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs are addressed, as appropriate, in future contracts. (Recommendation 18)
Open
As of July 2023, we are working with the agency to update the status of the recommendation.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and the Bureau of Political and Military Affairs to ensure that the standards for working dogs provided to foreign partners address, as appropriate, all 18 issues GAO identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs. (Recommendation 19)
Open
As of July 2023, we are working with the agency to update the status of the recommendation.

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Animal healthAnimal welfareAnimalsCanine explosives detectionGovernment contractsPolicies and proceduresHealth careFederal agenciesExplosivesIndependent agencies