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Ann M. Veneman Secretary of Agriculture Before The Senate Committee On Appopriations Commerce, Justice, State And The Judiciary Subcommittee


Ann M. Veneman Secretary of Agriculture
Before The Senate Committee On Appropriations Commerce, Justice, State And The Judiciary Subcommittee

MAY 9, 2001

“Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, it is an honor for me to appear before you to discuss the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) role in combating terrorism.

“I want to begin by thanking the members of this Committee for their support of USDA programs and for the long history of effective cooperation between the members of this Committee and the Department. Further, I want to thank you for this opportunity to outline USDA’s efforts to protect the 'nation’s food supply and agricultural infrastructure from the threat of terrorism. Our goal is to make sure the food supply and agricultural infrastructure are safe and protected from the variety of hazards that pose a threat. We evaluate threats against the food supply and agricultural infrastructure and apply our resources as appropriate. Our focus, to date, has been on naturally occurring threats since they historically have posed the greatest risk.

“As we look at potential global threats, USDA has heightened its efforts to ensure that intentional acts do not threaten the safety of the nation’s food supply or agricultural infrastructure. Efforts in this area have utilized existing authorities and resources within our appropriations. Although USDA receives no substantial appropriations to specifically combat terrorism, several of our existing programs do perform roles that improve the Department’s ability to deal with such threats.

We certainly take seriously any action that might threaten the safety of the nation’s food supply or agricultural infrastructure.USDA’s Office of Inspector General vigorously investigates any such threats in close coordination with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners.

“To help ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply, several of our existing programs do perform roles that improve the Department’s ability to combat terrorism. We continuously review our food safety programs to ensure regulations and programs are protecting consumers.

“The best way to deal with threats to the nation’s food supply and agricultural infrastructure is to prevent and deter intentional or unintentional introduction of plant and animal diseases into the U.S. I have said many times that pests and animal disease prevention and eradication programs are central to USDA’s ability to protect the nation’s food supply and agriculture infrastructure. Simply put, the best offense is a good defense.

“As you know, the details of the President's Fiscal Year (FY) Budget were released on April 9th.  The Department is requesting appropriations for FY 2002 that total $76 billion, an increase of $1.4 billion for the Department's on-going programs. While no substantial portion of this funding is specifically proposed to combat terrorism, a portion of these funds devoted to plant and animal health and food safety, including research, will promote underlying support for our ability to combat threats to the nation’s food and fiber supply and agricultural infrastructure, no matter what the source.”

“I want to emphasize that the levels of funding that we are recommending in our FY 2002 budget proposal be supported. This budget was developed to include sufficient funding to carry out key priorities that improve the safety of the nation’s food supply and agricultural infrastructure such as:

Ensuring we have the funding and legal authorities necessary to strengthen our agricultural quarantine inspection activities and combat pest and disease infestations, no matter what the cause;

Providing adequate funding for our food safety activities, particularly the meat and poultry inspection workforce of the Food Safety and Inspection Service; and Funding ongoing central administration functions that assist the Department in combating terrorism.

for FY 2002, we are requesting an increase of $174 million in appropriations for Animal and Plan Health Inspection Service (APHIS) programs that will allow us to continue emergency programs underway in FY 2001.

“With the recent focus on various plant and animal disease issues, such as Foot and Mouth Disease, the Department has stepped up its interdiction efforts. I have authorized the use of an additional $32 million of AQI user fees over two years beginning in FY 2001 in order to provide more inspection resources at borders and ports of entry as soon as possible. While not focused on a potential terrorist act, it is obvious that these additional resources will support the Department’s efforts to protect our nation’s food supply and agricultural infrastructure from any effort to introduce contraband into the U.S.

“Together with our appropriations request, funding will rise by almost 40 percent increase over FY 2000 levels for the Agricultural Quarantine Inspection (AQI) program in order to increase the level of inspections along U.S. borders and ports of entry. yes">  We will be able to increase staffing in the AQI program by over 900 by the end of FY 2002 -- more than 35 percent higher than FY 2000. While this effort mostly interdicts efforts to bring contraband products into the US, it is clear that an efficiently managed regulatory environment also deters the attempted introduction of contraband into the U.S. for terrorist purposes.

USDA has also taken steps to improve the Department’s coordination of national security and crisis management issues with the recent creation of “the Departmental-level Office of Crisis Planning and Management (OCPM). This office is helping to ensure that the Department effectively coordinates and integrates use of its existing resources and is working in concert with USDA agencies and offices to promote close coordination with other Federal agencies in the areas of national security and crisis management.

“USDA chairs the Protection of Agriculture and Food Supply System Subgroup for the Weapons of Mass Destruction Preparedness (WMDP) Group, working with a broad range of agencies on preparedness and protection of critical agriculture infrastructure and the food supply system.Additionally, USDA provides representation to the other WMDP Subgroups.

“An important step that USDA has taken in recent months is to redouble our emergency preparedness efforts to coordinate with other Federal agencies. Much of this coordination has been focused primarily on managing the consequences of a potential Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in the U.S. While such an outbreak continues to appear unlikely, USDA has intensified our crisis management efforts to ensure that if we ever faced an emergency situation, we are prepared with a swift and full Federal response, which is not limited to USDA, but includes the entire Federal government.

“In recent years, there has been a growing recognition among the emergency management and law enforcement communities that the nation’s agricultural system is, in fact, a critical infrastructure and that any disruption of this infrastructure system would have both significant emergency management and economic impacts.

“To enhance the nation’s ability to respond to an agricultural crisis, USDA has been working to improve the level of coordination at the local, State, and Federal levels between agricultural interests, law enforcement, and emergency management.

“This effort has led to an emerging relationship with such organizations as the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA). While these efforts have previously focused on responding to naturally occurring agricultural crises, such as a hurricane or major flooding, USDA is currently emphasizing the need to coordinate it efforts to respond to terrorist acts against U.S. agricultural interests.

“Our concentrated efforts have also focused within USDA on the safety of our employees and the protection of USDA facilities.The USDA Office of Inspector General, along with other USDA law enforcement and security entities, has established favorable working relationships with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials and the intelligence community to ensure the safety of USDA employees and a safe working environment. We recently expanded the scope and frequency of these contacts to make sure we are fully aware of current threats.

“Of additional note, the Forest Service maintains a Law Enforcement and Investigations (LEI) program.The LEI program has become recognized by other federal agencies as an expert on eco-terrorism. This expertise has arisen, as a direct result of prior criminal and small-scale domestic terrorist acts committed against Forest Service facilities and employees related to logging and forest management.

“Our coordination efforts with other Federal agencies also continue. We are reviewing the Federal Response Plan and reevaluating the Department’s responsibilities as outlined in the plan. We are working with other Federal agencies in an effort to more completely define the functions that should be included in the Plan regarding to animal and plant health, food safety and production agriculture. We want to ensure that the resources of USDA are fully integrated into the Federal response to any disaster.

“USDA is currently capable of adequately responding to natural, accidental, and inadvertent introductions of exotic diseases and pests. However, should there be a widespread intentional introduction of an exotic disease or pest in multiple locations simultaneously, USDA would look to our Federal, state, and local partners for additional support.

“In closing, I would like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, and the Committee, for this opportunity to discuss the Department of Agriculture’s role in combating terrorism. Protecting the nation’s food supply and agricultural infrastructure from all threats is central to our mission and central to the future economic prosperity of the United States of America.”