One Downside of Homeland Security Department: Agricultural Inspection Gets Lost

Department's focus on security leads to less examination of potentially harmful agricultural threats

Border personnel are getting more agriculture-related training, and new agricultural liaisons have been assigned to every district field office nationwide.

The Department of Homeland Security has improved targeting of agricultural inspections. Interception rates have jumped at ports including Seattle, Boston and Baltimore, suggesting that inspectors are focusing better.

Nonetheless, problems recur, some a result of strained resources.

The 140 agriculture canine teams operating under the Agriculture Department have since shrunk to about 80 teams operated by Customs and Border Protection.

Still other problems result more directly from the collision of two bureaucracies. Customs and Border Protection officials, for instance, don't yet have a complete listing of e-mail addresses for agriculture inspectors, complicating efforts to send out crucial warnings.

"One inspector expressed dismay that specialists at the port to which he had recently transferred were unaware of new regulations for conducting inspections to safeguard against avian influenza," the investigators noted.

<<Sacramento Bee, The (CA) (KRT) -- 05/24/06>>