The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Seeing Double: Yes, Even More Duplication!

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


As part of a continuing series, CAGW is providing you with examples of duplication and overlap within the federal government that has been researched by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  In the 2011 GAO annual report, “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue,” the agency offers 81 suggestions on where cost-saving ideas could be implemented.  Here is another example from the report.

Page 8 - Fragmented Food Safety System Has Caused Inconsistent Oversight, Ineffective Coordination, and Inefficient Use of Resources

According to the GAO, there are 15 federal agencies that collectively administer at least 30 food related laws.  The two largest agencies that oversee food are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).  In fiscal 2012, their combined budgets were approximately $1.9 billion.  The USDA is responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, processed egg products, and catfish while the FDA is responsible for practically all other food, including seafood.

Here are some examples of confusing regulations:

  • FDA regulates pizza but the USDA regulates pizza if it has meat on it.
  • The FDA regulates spaghetti sauce without meat, the USDA regulates spaghetti sauce with meat
  • The FDA regulates soup with less than 2% meat and poultry, the USDA regulates soup with more than 2% meat and poultry.

According to the GAO, three major trends also create food safety challenges: (1) the substantial increase and growing consumption of imported food, (2) consumers are eating more raw and minimally processed foods, and (3) segments of the population that are particularly susceptible to food-borne illnesses, such as older adults and immune-compromised individuals, are growing.

These growing trends will only create more confusion, overlap, and turf battles leading to increased federal costs between the two major food agencies.

The GAO points out that many organizations have suggested other organizational structures for overseeing food safety. They are:

  • 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 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; and
  • 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.

While the GAO admits that taxpayers may not see a savings immediately by combining food safety programs from the FDA and the USDA, it will do so in the future and avoid expensive turf battles.  They mention that when the USDA was charged in 2008 with the Congressional mandate to take over the catfish inspection program from the FDA, it cost them approximately $20 million between fiscal years 2009 and 2012 to develop the program.  Final regulations have not been released yet and as of this year, the USDA has not inspected one catfish.

From the very start, it was parochial politics that moved catfish inspection from the FDA to the USDA, lead by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS).  For fiscal year 2014, Congress is looking at returning catfish inspection back to the FDA.

In this time of budget constraints, Congress needs to find ways to make the government more efficient.  Combining all food oversight and inspection activities into one agency would be a policy worth considering.

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