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Kimberly Egan

FDA Compliance

Congressional Committee to Reduce Waste, Eliminates Self

Audit of federal agency overlap runs up against entrenched confusion

Published: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 09:05

It turns out that I am not the only one who has noticed that food regulation is sometimes a little, well, silly. The federal government recently “identified a mother lode of government waste and duplication” and decided that getting rid of it “could potentially save billions of tax dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and more effective service.” This according to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in response to the GAO’s first-ever audit of federal agency overlap.

One of the biggest culprits is food safety. There are more than 30 food-related laws administered by 15 different federal agencies, and still the U.S. public lacks confidence in the safety of its food supply. What to do?

The GAO recommends that as “a next step, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with the federal agencies that have food safety responsibilities, should develop a governmentwide performance plan for food safety that includes results-oriented goals and performance measures, and a discussion of strategies and resources.”

What does that mean? It sounds a lot like the “next-generation, platform-based, information-based solutions”-type stuff we heard about during the tech boom.

The GAO insists that “[w]ithout a governmentwide performance plan for food safety, decision makers do not have a comprehensive picture of the federal government’s performance on this crosscutting issue.” In other words, if no one tells the boss what’s going on, the boss won’t know what’s going on. Let’s definitely fix that.

The GAO also wants Congress to ask the National Academies of Science (NAS) to ask a blue ribbon panel of experts to come up with some “alternative food safety organizational structures.” The GAO proposes that Congress ask the NAS to ask the blue ribbon panel to consider the excellent example of Europe. Somehow I don’t think our conservative Congress will cotton to that idea. Europe has one food safety agency and one transparent set of food safety rules. That seems so sensible, no?

The GAO also appears to recommend Food Communism: “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.” Conservatives won’t like that, either.

Because the solution to our food problems is to become more European, we can rest assured that nothing at all will change. We will stick with our quaintly provincial and silly system of food regulation. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will continue to make sure that shell eggs are properly labeled while the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will continue to ensure the health of the chicks that hatch from them. The FDA will continue to regulate products made from the shell eggs (that one hopes were properly labeled) while the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service will continue to grade eggs for beauty and purity. And it will continue to be the case that nobody at all in the federal government will be making sure that the eggs sold in your local grocery store are free of Salmonella.

The good news is that it’s not just food that gets taken to task in this report. The GAO says we could probably save some money “defending our northern border” from our staunch Canadian ally as well as continuing to identify government overlap. No. 14 on the GAO’s list of things to de-duplicate is “Enterprise Architects,” which it says are a “key mechanism for identifying overlap and duplication.”

What a waste.

Discuss

About The Author

Kimberly Egan’s picture

Kimberly Egan

Kimberly Egan is a litigation and regulatory lawyer with a background in pharmaceutical and medical device litigation and advice, Consumer Product Safety Commission work, food safety counseling and litigation, and commercial and mass tort litigation. Her food work has included risk-management planning and strategic assessments related to obesity claims, litigation analyses in connection with an acquisition of a company manufacturing dietary supplements, advice on FDA’s food additive and food contact regulations, advice on FDA’s Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) regulations, and general advice on food safety issues, product recalls, and supply-chain rationalization. She is a regular contributor to the AssurX blog.