US Government Accountability Office report declares need for 'single food safety agency'
Current oversight has caused 'ineffective coordination', 'inefficient use of resources'
The U.S Government Accountability Office has released a report, "Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue," focusing on identifying federal programs, agencies, offices and initiatives which have duplicate goals or activities in an attempt to reduce government spending. Among the areas focused on was agriculture, and the GAO determined that the current "fragmented food safety system has caused inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination and inefficient use of resources."
According to the GAO, fifteen federal agencies collectively administer at least 30 food-related laws. Budget obligations for the two primary food safety agencies, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, totaled $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2009.
To address the fragmentation, and the inherent problems of such scattered oversight, the GAO suggested several potential alternative organizational structures:
- 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;
- a single food safety inspection agency that assumes responsibility for food safety inspection activities, but not other activities, under an existing department, such as the USDA or FDA;
- 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; or
- 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.
Although reducing fragmentation in federal food safety oversight is not expected to result in significant cost savings, said the GAO report, new costs may be avoided by preventing further fragmentation.