As GAO noted in its report, the U.S. government is the “world’s largest and most complex entity” that runs an incredibly diverse range of programs, so the agency uses its high-risk list to draw attention to the areas that need the most work.
“Solutions to high-risk problems offer the potential to save billions of dollars, improve service to the public, and strengthen the performance and accountability of the U.S. government,” says GAO.
In February 2011, the agency identified 30 high-risk areas, including federal oversight of food safety. This month, two years later, only two items have improved enough, according to GAO, to move off that list: management of interagency contracting and the Internal Revenue Service business systems modernization.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a longtime advocate for stronger federal food safety regulation, put out a statement reacting to the report.
“Given the sheer number of foodborne illnesses and outbreaks, it is no surprise that federal oversight of food safety continues to be included on the GAO’s list of high risk areas,” said DeLauro. “You need to look no further than the current Salmonella outbreak that has sickened 18 people in five states to know that food safety deserves to be on this list and it is time for Congress to act. Since the GAO first added food safety to its list of high-risk areas in 2007, it has highlighted the fragmented oversight of food safety and recommended the establishment of a government-wide plan to address this critical problem. That plan remains elusive.
The congresswoman added that she believes food safety is coordinated between too many agencies and should be reorganized into a single entity.
“Right now there is not one single person in charge and that puts us all at risk of getting sick from preventable illnesses,” said DeLauro, who said she will reintroduce a bill to establish a single food safety agency, which “would ensure that there is one person the public can hold accountable when outbreaks occur.”
Food safety oversight remains on the high-risk list along with items like enforcing tax laws, restructuring the United States Postal Service, and transforming the Environmental Protection Agency’s process for assessing and controlling toxic chemicals.
The GAO also added two items to the high-risk list: limiting the federal government’s fiscal exposure by better managing climate change risks and mitigating gaps in weather satellite data.© Food Safety News