USDA can do better on animal import safeguards

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The U.S. Agriculture Department needs to tighten inspection procedures for live animal shipments entering the United States to prevent foreign diseases from harming American livestock, the USDA inspector general said in a new report.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in fiscal 2008 regulated imports of 24 million animals and quarantined 165,000 high-risk ones, such as birds from countries that have Exotic Newcastle Disease, a fatal viral disease that can infect all species of birds.

But the inspector general found a series of faulty APHIS procedures beginning with its precautions when high-risk animals arrive and continuing to bio-security conditions at quarantine facilities. APHIS staff failed to monitor the disinfecting of airplane and airport cargo areas and did not collect debris that may be contaminated, the report said. At some airports, non-APHIS employees wearing shorts and sandals instead of protective clothing were seen handling animals, and some quarantine areas had torn window screens.

“APHIS officials did not identify these weaknesses because they did not exercise sufficient oversight to ensure import and quarantine requirements were met,” the report said. “The weaknesses we identified significantly increased the risk that infected animals could enter the country undetected through quarantine facilities.” As proof of the risk, the watchdog found some birds infected with Exotic Newcastle Disease and at least one horse with Contagious Equine Metritis, a fast-spreading venereal disease, entered the country and infected other animals.

Fast Fact: APHIS collected $4.6 million in user fees for import, export, and quarantine services in 2008, but had operating expenses of nearly $4.7 million. The agency plans to propose a comprehensive overhaul of user fees beginning in fiscal 2013.

Other new reports released by agencies including the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG):

FINANCE

  • FEMA should deduct $2.1 million from $20.6 million awarded to Mississippi Coast Coliseum Commission because it was used for improvements instead of Hurricane Katrina repairs (OIG)
  • Federal deficit for first 11 months of FY2010 estimated at almost $1.3 trillion, $100 million less than same year-ago period (Congressional Budget Office)

HEALTH CARE

  • Demand rises for federally-funded meals, transportation, and services allowing elderly to remain in their homes (GAO)

MISC.

  • Energy Dept. has continuing problems retaining and managing electronic records, including e-mail (OIG)
  • VA did poor job of managing $400 million, now-cancelled financial system modernization program with contractor General Dynamics (OIG)
  • Social Security Administration had $598 million in unused funds from FY2004-08 which could have helped reduce backlog of disability claims (OIG)
  • IRS successfully launches new application transferring information from a taxpayer’s return to a federal student aid application form (OIG)

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