Homelandsecurity General | USDA
USDA In Facebook USDA In Twitter Google+ USDA Blog USDA In Youtube USDA govdelivery USDA In Flickr USDA RSS
Stay Connected
Testimony by USDA Secretary Ann M. Veneman

 

by

 

 Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman Before the

Senate Hearing On Homeland Security

April 30, 2002

 

Thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on the Department’s efforts on Homeland Security.

 

We have a longstanding commitment to food safety and securing the food supply and agriculture from threats.

 

Last year, just after assuming office, we dealt with the threat of foot and mouth disease as we watched the widespread outbreak in England.

 

We strengthened our surveillance and response systems as we dealt with the threat of that disease – a disease we had not had in this country for over 70 years.

 

Last fall USDA released a report, Food and Agriculture Policy: Taking Stock for the New Century which looked at the future issues facing the food system – from farm programs to trade to rural development to conservation to food safety. 

 

One of the issues the report highlighted was the importance of the infrastructure that protects our food supply – our food safety systems, our pest and disease protection program, and the research that supports these important missions. 

 

Following the events of 9/11 we are also examining threats to our food supply as homeland security issues. 

 

We are now concerned about intentional and well as unintentional threats.

 

Following September 11, we took immediate steps to secure sensitive facilities and examine vulnerabilities throughout the food chain.

 

In the ensuing days and months, we have conducted assessments to identify the critical needs to fill security gaps. 

 

These were coordinated within the Administration and ultimately formed the basis for the President’s proposals submitted to Congress.

 

We also recognized the need for an internal structure to coordinate the Department’s vast array of programs and communicate efficiently to meet pressing security needs. 

 

We established the USDA Homeland Security Council (headed by Deputy Secretary Moseley) to manage our responsibilities in this area. 

 

The Council has three subcouncils, each chaired or co-chaired by a USDA subcabinet officer. 

 

They include:

·         Protection of the Food Supply and Agricultural production

·         Protecting USDA Facilities and Other Infrastructure

·         Protecting USDA Staff and Emergency Preparedness

 

The Council has performed a critical role in coordinating the efforts we are undertaking, including those funded through the supplemental passed in January. 

 

Even before the supplemental was signed by the President on January 10, we started developing plans for the use of the funds. 

 

 

I want to thank the Committee for providing flexibility in the allocation of the funds. 

 

We have taken this opportunity to rather intensively review our needs and direct funds to fill gaps. 

 

There are a number of areas where multiple agencies are involved. 

 

We are working with other federal agencies, state departments of agriculture and industry to coordinate and plan homeland security efforts….these are important partnerships.

 

As soon as we finalized our decisions, we sent information to the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on the allocation of the funds and we subsequently provided briefings for Subcommittee staff. 

 

All of the supplemental funds have now been allocated to the agencies. 

 

The following is a breakdown of where those resources are being spent.

 

Over one-half of these funds, or about $177 million, is being used to make physical and operational security improvements at key locations. 

 

This includes $64 million at the animal disease center in Ames, Iowa. 

 

This allows us to immediately relocate APHIS labs from leased space onto the main Ames campus. 

 

It also supports construction of a biosecurity level 3 large animal facility. 

 

Planning for this facility is underway and the construction contract is expected to be awarded by the end of next fiscal year. 

 

There is also $23 million for Plum Island, pending the outcome of a broad independent review of the needs and options for this work, including the needs for biosecurity level 4 facilities.

 

We have also directed $35 million to strengthen the Agricultural Quarantine Inspection program. 

 

This is our first line of defense to exclude agricultural pests and diseases at the borders. 

 

These funds are to accelerate the development of an automated system in coordination with Customs Service to better identify cargo to be inspected. 

 

We are also purchasing 100 rapid pathogen identification devices and hire additional staff to conduct intensified inspections.

 

$15 million has been provided to FSIS for increased monitoring, training to inspectors on terrorist threats and expanded technical capabilities. 

 

We also directed an additional $1.5 million to hire additional inspectors for imported meat and poultry.

 

$15.3 million has been allocated to ARS for development of  improved rapid detection technologies, for Foot and Mouth Disease and other pathogens.

 

We recognize that the Federal government will need assistance from our cooperators at the State and local levels to adequately address homeland security threats. 

 

We plan to provide over $43 million in grants and other assistance to states to assist in strengthening our partnerships and coordination activities. 

 

Critical efforts in this area include:

·         Improved surveillance and early detection and response capabilities, both for animal and plant pests and diseases.

·         Enhanced infrastructures for rapid detection and diagnosis of animal and plant disease and pest threats. 

·         Additional capability throughout the Nation so that we can quickly detect and correctly diagnose disease symptoms.

·         Increased capacity to dispose of animal carcasses. 

·         Increased capacity in each region of the country to safely dispose of animal carcasses in the event of a major disease outbreak. 

 

Modern information technologies provide exciting capabilities to greatly improve our ability to respond to plant and animal pest and disease outbreaks. 

 

We are developing a system that relies on geographic information system technologies to provide capabilities for real-time mapping to predict spread and consequences of outbreaks. 

 

Mr. Chairman, I would also like to point out that our FY 2003 Budget includes a number of increases to strengthen the agricultural infrastructure and enhance homeland security. 

 

These include increases for pest and disease exclusion, surveillance, response and research directed at threats faced by the agriculture and food system. 

 

If approved by the Congress, our budget allocations would bring our funding and staffing at ports of entry to record levels, more than doubling from where they were just three years ago.

 

We also propose funds to address the very real threat of disruption to our computer systems. 

We have provided details of these proposals to the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and in my written testimony today. 

 

I urge the Committee’s support for these critically important proposals. 

 

Finally, I want to point out an item in the President’s pending supplemental. 

 

We are requesting an additional $75 million for the WIC program. 

 

These funds are important to ensure adequate resources to continue to meet the caseload levels we are experiencing. 

 

This is tied largely to higher than predicted growth in WIC participation and food costs. 

 

During January, the WIC program served over 7.5 million participants, for an average of 7.46 million so far this fiscal year.

 

We have no reason to believe that these trends will moderate during the remainder of the year. 

 

In summary, I believe we have set up an effective structure to address the critical homeland security issues related to protection of the Nation’s agriculture and food supply. 

 

We greatly appreciate the Committee’s interest in these critical issues and the support you have given to our efforts. 

 

As I mentioned, last year at this time, we were facing a very serious threat of foot and mouth disease – as we saw the devastation that occurred in the U.K.

 

Those events – while not a food safety concern – led us to further strengthen our protection systems.

 

We acted immediately to do so – and, as a result, we were probably better prepared to respond in the aftermath of the tragedies of September 11th.

 

But our vigilance hasn’t stopped, nor our commitment to work with the Congress, states, other federal agencies, academia, and the private sector to make sure we have a strong line of defense.

 

We will continue to work with you and your staff to meet the rapidly evolving challenges we face in securing our food supply and agricultural infrastructure.

 

That concludes my comments.  I will be glad to respond to your questions.