“Protecting American Agriculture Employees for Over 50 Years”

“We won’t be cutting the barbed wire……yet.”

During 2007 NAAE closely followed the various congressional efforts to return the agriculture inspection functions to USDA.  We were asked to supply data to several Congresspersons and to several congressional committees regarding the agriculture inspection mission (and its failures under CBP administration) and we engaged in several letter writing campaigns aimed at promoting a return of foreign entry inspection functions.

The most promising bills were submitted by Dianne Feinstein D-CA and Dick Durbin D-IL in the Senate and Dennis Cardoza D-CA in the House.  These bills had called for a wholesale return of the inspection functions, personnel, and positions transferred under the Homeland Security Act of 2002.  These two bills eventually were offered as amendments to the Farm Bills of the respective houses.  The Farm Bill is omnibus agriculture support legislation that is offered about every five years.

We were certain that the restoration amendment would be killed by Senator Lieberman I-CT in his function as Chairman of the Senate Government Affairs and Homeland Security Committee.  Unfortunately, the amendment didn’t even get this far, as it was pulled from the Farm Bill in the House in anticipation that it could be stripped (and sent to a permanent demise.)

The House Homeland Security Committee insisted that the amendment go through a hearing process with their Committee first as the restoration of inspection functions to USDA would come at great cost to DHS, as it would lose access to Agriculture Inspection User Fees that it has been (mis)using to pay for Agriculture Inspection (and overtime performed by CBP Officers performing other functions than protecting American Agriculture.)

Surprisingly, NAAE was called at the eleventh hour by the minority leadership of the House Agriculture Committee asking us to call and write the House leadership overnight to attempt to overcome the obstacle and delay that a Homeland Security Committee hearing would present. [Practically the ENTIRE House Agriculture Committee was determined to get CBP out of the Agriculture Inspection business—they had simply heard enough horror stories on their committee.]  Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in preserving the amendment as there was a rush to finish the Farm Bill, a momentary compromise and an ultimate failure for getting our amendment when the Republican Caucus denied the Farm Bill support, and President Bush threatened a veto over an argument on new taxes amended to the Farm Bill aimed at supporting Food Stamp programs.

The final result of all of the maneuvering: there will be no restoration this year.  A new effort will need to wait for the next congressional term and a new Administration.  A compromise was struck that calls for increased monitoring of the CBP Ag inspection program.  Joint CBP and USDA committees will continue to examine problems and propose improvements in the quarantine programs. New liaison personnel will be hired on the CBP and PPQ sides to work with their counterparts in the opposite department.  Nothing will move.

We hope the best for the Agriculture Protection Mission and our fellow inspectors in CBP. Unfortunately, we believe the current legislation of nicey-nicey gobbledegook and wishful thinking is just more of the same. Rooster guarding the hen house—everyone gets ____________________.  I’d truly like to see some Port Chief or DFO be sorry and admit that he/she screwed up the agriculture protection mission (gosh knows the failures have happened, but it will be a cold day before CBP realizes/admits/punishes for it.)

We’ll Keep Trying!