USDA, CDC, Interior must collaborate to block imports of risky live animals

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The U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Interior, and Health and Human Services need to work together to close regulatory gaps and prevent imports of risky animals that may transmit diseases to humans, a watchdog report says.

The United States imported more than 1 billion live animals between 2005 and 2008 for agriculture, research, exhibition, aquariums, pet sales, and other uses, the Government Accountability Office said. Some imported animals have the potential to transmit infectious diseases to humans such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a 2003 outbreak blamed for 43 deaths in Canada and hundreds in Asia.

Live animal imports are policed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – each residing within a different federal department. The Fish and Wildlife Service, for example, regulated imports of about 157 million fish and 20 million amphibians, birds, crustaceans, insects, reptiles and mammals in fiscal 2009.

“Because each of the agencies is focused on a different aspect of live animal imports, no single entity has comprehensive responsibility for the zoonotic and animal disease risks posed by live animal imports,” the GAO said. “Furthermore, the agencies have largely incompatible data systems, and a completion date for CBP’s [Customs and Border Patrol] planned data system, which would provide the agencies with full operational access to information on incoming shipments of live animals, has not been established.”

FAST FACT: The first U.S. case of mad cow disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was found in 2003 in an imported cow from Canada. The incident triggered an estimated $11 billion in losses for the U.S. cattle and meat industry due to trade restrictions imposed by other countries.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities. Congressional Research Service reports, which are prepared for lawmakers but not made public, were provided by the Center for Democracy and Technology.

NATIONAL SECURITY

* Fiscal 2011 funding for U.S. Coast Guard bans outsourcing the management of complex weapons programs to contractors known as “lead system integrators.” The restriction reflects lawmakers’ concerns about the Coast Guard’s Deepwater program and the Army’s Future Combat System, both poorly managed by lead system integrators. (Congressional Research Service)

* A rising number of protests by companies that fail to win Pentagon contracts and the delays that accompany the protests are raising concerns about the impact on Defense Department operations. (Congressional Research Service)

* Congress must decide whether to approve the Navy’s plan to buy its 11th San Antonio-class amphibious ship in fiscal 2012. The Navy spent an initial $184 million on the ship in fiscal 2010, and plans to seek the remaining $1.9 billion cost of the vessel in its fiscal 2012 budget. (Congressional Research Service).

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