The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a March 2011 report identifying 34 areas, including agriculture, “where agencies, offices, or initiatives have similar or overlapping objectives or provide similar services to the same populations; or where government missions are fragmented across multiple agencies.” Commissioned by Congress, this first annual report also summarizes 47 areas where lawmakers or regulators could further reduce the cost of government. These results reflect both new research undertaken by GAO and previously compiled reports, such as the February 16, 2011, edition of the High-Risk Series covered in Issue 382 of this Update.

When it comes to the agriculture sector, according to GAO, “[t]he fragmented
federal oversight of food safety has caused inconsistent oversight, ineffective
coordination, and inefficient use of resources.” The report notes that 15
federal agencies “collectively administer at least 30 food related laws,” with the
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) overseeing meat, poultry, processed
egg products, and catfish, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
responsible “for virtually all other food, including seafood.” GAO particularly
found fault with the 2008 Farm Bill, which split seafood safety between USDA
and FDA, as well as the import screening system used by the Department of
Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, which evidently does
not notify USDA or FDA when imported food shipments arrive at U.S. ports.

In addition to directing the Office of Management and Budget to work with
federal agencies to develop “a governmentwide [sic] performance plan for
food safety,” the report identifies several “alternative organizational structures
that could be analyzed in more detail.” These structures include: (i) “a single
food safety agency, either housed within an existing agency or established
as an independent entity, that assumes responsibility for all aspects of food
safety at the federal level”; (ii) “a single food safety inspection agency that
assumes responsibility for food safety inspection activities, but not other
activities, under an existing department, such as USDA or FDA”; (iii) “a data
collection and risk analysis center for food safety that consolidates data
collected from a variety of sources and analyzes it at the national level to
support risk-based decision making”; and (iv) “a coordination mechanism
that provides centralized, executive leadership for the existing organizational
structure, led by a central chair who would be appointed by the president and
have control over resources.”

In the meantime, GAO has called on Congress to enact “comprehensive
risk-based food safety legislation” that goes beyond the January 2011 FDA
Food Safety Modernization Act. Although these changes might not produce
significant cost savings, the report concludes that “new costs may be avoided by preventing further fragmentation” and that reorganization efforts “could result in a number of nonfinancial benefits,” including “improved consumer
confidence in the systems.”

GAO has also speculated that reducing some farm program payments could
indeed result in “substantial savings,” as much as $5 billion annually if USDA
eliminated or reduced direct payments to farmers, and “particularly those
to large farming operations.” The report estimates that government could
save approximately (i) $800 million over 10 years “by reducing payment and
income eligibility limits for a very small portion of recipients”; (ii) $600 million
annually “by reducing the portion of acres used to calculate payments to
75 percent”; and (iii) $5 billion annually “by terminating or phasing out the
payments.”

“Given the challenges noted above, careful, thoughtful actions will be needed to address many of the issues discussed in this report, particularly those involving potential duplication,” notes U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro in the report’s introduction, which also highlights the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Modernization Act of 2010. “Implementing provisions of the new act—such as its emphasis on establishing outcome-oriented goals covering a limited number of crosscutting policy areas—could play an important role in clarifying desired outcomes, addressing program performance spanning multiple organizations, and facilitating future actions to reduce unnecessary duplication, overlap, and fragmentation.” See Law360, March 1, 2011; Bloomberg, March 2, 2011.

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.

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