November 2, 2007
In a letter to Sens. Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), chair
and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee,
respectively, agricultural groups supported restoring the functions of the
Quarantine and Inspection program to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
In 2003, inspectors
dedicated to identifying agricultural threats were transitioned from the USDA to
the DHS. A May 2006 Government Accountability Office report documented a number
of disturbing findings and identified several areas where improvements in the
quarantine and inspection procedures were urgently needed. DHS has not developed
sufficient performance measures that take into account the agency's expanded
mission or considered all pathways by which prohibited agricultural items or
foreign pests may enter this country.
Despite many assurances that
performance would improve, the problems continue, and thus, the signators of
this letter conclude that improvement is not possible in the current structure.
The letter goes on to say that the threat of pests and disease is too
great to continue to wait. The USDA program had a positive track record by which
the DHS's poor performance is judged. According to a 2004 Cornell study, the
cost of invasive species is estimated at $120 billion annually, and the number
of occurrences in this country has risen dramatically over the years.
The signing parties resolutely support the DHS' statutory mission to
protect the country from terrorist attack and reduce the vulnerability to such
threats. Restoring agricultural functions to USDA will simultaneously improve
the detection of agricultural risks while permitting the DHS to focus on the
important mission of overall security.
In conclusion, it was requested
that in an effort to protect American agriculture and its natural environment,
the Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection functions must be transitions from
the DHS to USDA to restore the confidence the agricultural community has in this
important safeguard. Staff contact: Peter Orwick, ext. 33