OIG evaluated APHIS’ controls to ensure compliance with the AWA and followed up on agency actions in response to a previous audit; OIG could not fully evaluate APHIS’ controls due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 1966, Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in response to public concerns regarding stolen pets being used in laboratory research. The AWA set Federal standards for humane care and treatment, which must be provided for certain animals bred for commercial sale, exhibited to the public, used in biomedical research, or transported commercially. Individuals who operate facilities for these purposes must provide their animals with adequate care and treatment in the areas of housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather and temperatures. Although Federal requirements establish basic standards, regulated businesses are encouraged to exceed these standards.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) delegates the responsibility for administering the AWA to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS’ Animal Care (AC) Program is charged with developing and implementing regulations to support the AWA. The AWA requires that all individuals or businesses dealing with animals covered under the AWA be licensed or registered with APHIS. Certain activities and businesses are not covered under the AWA such as retail pet stores, retail dog and cat sales, hobby breeders, and private owners of exotic pets. Before AC issues a license, the applicant must be in compliance with all standards and regulations under the AWA.
As of January 2020, there were 2,422 licensed dog breeders (see Exhibit A for a breakdown by State). AC ensures regulatory compliance with the AWA primarily through inspections. In fiscal year (FY) 2019, AC conducted over 9,000 inspections assessing the health, care, and treatment of more than 1 million animals. USDA inspectors use the AWA standards and regulations as the baseline by which they assess a facility’s level of care provided to animals. When inspectors identify items that are not in compliance with the AWA, APHIS holds those facilities responsible for properly addressing and correcting those items within a set timeframe. If the facility does not correct the deficiencies noted, APHIS may initiate legal action. This could result in animal confiscation, fines, cease-and-desist orders, or license suspensions and revocations. In addition to conducting routine, unannounced inspections, AC may perform inspections in response to public concerns.
AC encourages individuals to inform AC about facilities that should be licensed or registered. To accomplish its mission, APHIS relies on a database, Animal Care Information System (ACIS) to document, collect, analyze, maintain, and report information gathered during its inspections. ACIS provides inspectors with access to information about the facilities being inspected, including their address, phone number, inspections conducted in the last 3 years, and animal inventory.
APHIS’ Investigative and Enforcement Services (IES) personnel investigate alleged violations when licensees or registrants have not taken corrective measures to come into compliance with the AWA, individuals or businesses are conducting regulated activity without a license or without being registered with USDA, or the noncompliance presents (or presented) a direct risk to the health and well-being of the animals involved. When information and evidence gathered during an investigation supports a finding of a violation, APHIS may pursue enforcement action against the person or entity. In FY 2019, APHIS initiated 17 investigative cases for alleged AWA violations and assessed $147,300 in penalties.
Prior Audit Follow Up
In May 2010, OIG issued Audit Report 33002-4-SF, APHIS Animal Care Program Inspections of Problematic Dealers. The prior audit objectives were to: (1) evaluate the adequacy of APHIS’ controls to ensure dealer compliance with AWA, (2) review the impact of recent changes to the penalty assessment process, and (3) evaluate AC’s new mission critical information system (i.e., ACIS) for reliability and integrity. However, due to unexpected delays in implementing the new system, the team was unable to complete the third objective. The prior audit identified several deficiencies in APHIS’ enforcement of the AWA and included 14 recommendations.
Following the issuance of the prior audit report, OIG planned for and received multiple Congressional communications, requesting a follow-up review that would examine APHIS’ actions in response to OIG’s recommendations. Our current audit objectives included following up on APHIS’ actions in response to recommendations from the previous report. Our review found that APHIS addressed the recommendations (see Exhibit B for a list of the recommendations).
Our objectives were to evaluate the adequacy of APHIS’ controls to ensure breeder compliance with the AWA and follow up on agency actions taken in response to Audit Report 33002-4-SF, APHIS Animal Care Program Inspections of Problematic Dealers, issued in May 2010.
Due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, we experienced a scope limitation, which is more fully described in the Scope and Methodology section of this report, and were unable to evaluate breeder compliance with the AWA.
What OIG Found
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) delegates the responsibility for administering the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS’ Animal Care (AC) Program is charged with developing and implementing regulations to support the AWA. The AWA requires that all individuals or businesses dealing with animals covered under the AWA be licensed or registered with APHIS. USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) previously performed an audit of APHIS’ enforcement of the AWA for commercial dog breeders. Following the issuance of that report, we received multiple Congressional communications requesting a follow-up audit.
We identified data reliability issues with reports generated from APHIS’ Animal Care Information System (ACIS) database. This occurred because the agency no longer has a data manager for ACIS, and several large patches to the system have made it unreliable. As a result, APHIS is impeded in its ability to make informed management decisions, identify trends in noncompliant items, and identify how many inspections have been completed. APHIS is working towards migrating away from ACIS and transitioning to new information systems.
We also found that APHIS did not consistently address complaints it received or adequately document the results of its follow-up. This occurred because APHIS does not have a documented process for responding to complaints or for recording the results of the agency’s actions. As a result, some dog breeder facilities may be conducting regulated activity without a USDA license or oversight. Therefore, APHIS is not able to ensure the overall health and humane treatment of animals at these facilities.
APHIS agreed with our findings and recommendations, and we accepted management decision on all three recommendations.