USDA’s FSIS Overrun with Management Problems
By Tony Corbo
Poor Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Everyone seems to picking on the agency. This week’s U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis is the latest of five stinging audit reports that have been written by federal government watchdog agencies about the poor management practices governing the inspection program at FSIS. Five critical reports in 6 months that cover all three of the major meat commodities that the agency regulates – beef, pork and poultry.
Let’s tick them off:
- In March, USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a report entitled, “FSIS E. Coli Testing of Boxed Beef” that found major holes in the agency’s e-coli testing program and discovered that the instructions to the FSIS inspectors were unclear about what beef products needed to sampled;
- In May, the OIG published a report entitled, “Food Safety and Inspection Service – Inspection and Enforcement Activities at Swine Slaughter Facilities” that exposed major inconsistencies in the manner in which hog slaughter regulations were being enforced across the country and revealed that some of the hog slaughter plants using a FSIS’s pilot privatized inspection model had more food safety problems than plants properly staffed with FSIS inspectors;
- In June, the GAO released a report entitled, “Information Technology: Additional Executive Review Sessions Needed to Address Troubled Projects” continued to list FSIS’s $141.48 million Public Health Information System (PHIS) as one of the “troubled projects” on its radar screen for evaluation. For more information on how poorly PHIS is working, read my August 20 blog.
- In August, the USDA OIG issued a report entitled, “FSIS’ and AMS’ Field Level Workforce Challenges” that uncovered that some FSIS inspectors have been working excessive overtime that could compromise their ability to perform their jobs effectively. The report also revealed that the agency was not billing those overtime costs to industry as is required by current law and regulations. The agency management pled ignorance to the OIG findings;
- And, last but not least, this week’s GAO report revealed major data gaps in FSIS’s justification to expand its privatized inspection pilot project to all poultry plants – chicken and turkey – across the country
Food & Water Watch has been critical about the way FSIS is being managed for a while, but we find ourselves in good company. It is time for the Obama Administration to pay closer attention to what is going on at FSIS before public health is compromised. The GAO seems to agree with us that the latest scheme to privatize inspection in poultry facilities needs to be stopped because neither FSIS nor the White House has made the case to move forward. FSIS officials claim that they have a “secret plan” to fix the deficiencies identified in the GAO report, but they will not reveal it until a final rule is published. That is not good enough. The time to stop this ill-conceived proposal is now.