Ms. HAHN. Mr. Speaker, the U.S. agricultural sector is a critical component of the American economy, generating over $1 trillion in annual economic activity. However, this sector remains vulnerable to the natural or deliberate introduction of pests and disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports foreign pests and diseases currently cost the American economy tens of billions of dollars annually in the form of lower crop values, eradication programs, and emergency payments to farmers. Therefore, effective import and entry inspections are essential to preventing further economic losses.
After 9/11, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 transferred federal frontline import and entry agriculture inspection responsibilities from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) within the Department of Homeland Security. Intended to enhance coordination at our nation's ports of entry by unifying federal customs, immigration, and agriculture inspection officers within DHS, this reorganization has actually generated several problems relating to the recruitment and retaining of agricultural inspection activities, including staffing shortages of CBP inspection personnel, coordination challenges between APHIS and CBP, and a lack of resources for equipment and supplies.
Without measures to adequately address these specific shortfalls, CBP will be powerless to prevent the increasing economic damage foreign pests and diseases are causing to the American economy.
That is why I am introducing the Safeguarding American Commerce and Agriculture Act. This bill will address these issues by establishing an Office of Agriculture Inspection within CBP charged with 1) developing a comprehensive agriculture specialist career track that ensures agriculture specialists are provided the training, experience, and assignments necessary for career progression; 2) developing plans to ensure agriculture specialists receive the necessary equipment and resources to fully and effectively carry out their mission; and 3) establishing interagency rotations for CPB and APHIS personnel to strengthen critical relationships and promote interagency experience. By focusing on effective training and professional development, we can recruit and retain agricultural specialists, protect U.S. agriculture and commerce, and bolster this very necessary yet vulnerable sector of our economy.