Washington, D.C.—“The USDA Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) scathing audit of the Food Safety Inspection Service’s (FSIS) Public Health Information System (PHIS) reaffirmed what we’ve been saying about the system for years—that it is rife with deficiencies and will not ensure that the meat and poultry from many plants is safe to eat.
“The OIG criticized FSIS’s inept implementation of the PHIS that was once touted by the agency as a revolutionary tool to enhance public health since it would provide ‘real-time’ inspection data. Instead, the new information technology system has been fraught with problems—issues that were raised by the agency’s own inspection workforce even before the switch was turned on in 2011.
Deficiencies found by the OIG included:
FSIS needs to reassess whether PHIS will actually serve agency needs;
- PHIS is a web-based IT system, and the agency failed to ensure that there was reliable internet connectivity at the meat and poultry plants where the system was being used;
- The agency failed to meet timelines on the system’s implementation, and there were severe cost overruns. Costs have ballooned from the initial estimate of $8.7 million to a projected cost of $79.3 million by FY 2018. The White House IT Dashboard projects the total cost to $188.92 million by FY 2024;
- FSIS inspectors were not properly trained to use the ‘not performed codes’ that need to be used when assigned inspection tasks could not be performed;
- Former FSIS employees still had access to PHIS;
- There were no internal checks to determine whether the data entered into PHIS was accurate;
- The meat and poultry establishment profiles were not accurate, causing inefficiencies where FSIS officials attempted to inspect products that weren’t there.
“When Webster’s Dictionary is revised, there needs to be a new synonym added for the wordboondoggle: PHIS. FSIS’ own inspectors warned their management that the new IT system was not ready for prime time in 2010, yet the agency plowed ahead with its implementation.
“Food & Water Watch has repeatedly warned agency officials and congressional appropriators that the system was fraught with problems. We have even called for the removal of agency officials for their involvement in this fiasco. If there were ever a case for a congressional oversight hearing on waste, fraud, and abuse in government, PHIS would be a prime candidate. This is an agency that is reducing its inspection workforce to implement a reckless privatized inspection system, yet it continues to throw money at a worthless IT system. The priorities are all wrong at FSIS.”
Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.
Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.