Today’s reality is that Federal budgets are declining and agencies must address the change without sacrificing quality service to the American people. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), as part of USDA’s Blueprint for Stronger Service, is committed to making the best use of available resources to provide a high level of service for its customers. APHIS is in the process of streamlining both our operations and our processes to benefit producers, stakeholders and the American public.
Since 2010, APHIS has faced a 10 percent reduction in budgets for salaries and expenses, with additional reductions certainly a possibility. Overall, USDA has experienced a 12 percent reduction to its discretionary funding since 2010 and seen more than 7,000 employees leave its agencies and offices through retirement and voluntary separations. To help manage current and future changes, APHIS leadership examined our operations carefully. It was a difficult but necessary decision to close 15 offices here in the U.S. and five outside the country by the end of September 2012. The affected offices are being closed because the programs they support are ending or changing, or they are being combined with nearby offices. While more than 70 permanent employees will be affected, most will be able to continue to work in their local commuting area or to work in the field. And we will continue to work with customers and stakeholders to ensure there is no disruption in service.
APHIS also recently announced improvements to its programmatic processes. The agency’s leadership analyzed veterinary biologics licensing, risk assessment, genetically engineered organism petitions, and enforcement. From that analysis, detailed recommendations to improve customer service and efficiency are now being implemented that will reduce processing times by as much as 20-76 percent. The improvements will also lead to a more timely, predictable and higher-quality process.
A more predictable timeframe will enable developers to bring products granted nonregulated status to market more quickly and provide growers with more choices and access to new technologies sooner, while enabling APHIS to maintain its mission to protect U.S. agriculture and the environment from plant pests.
For veterinary biologics, the improvements will reduce the overall time it takes to process a complete license application by about 100 days, a savings of 20 percent, with the potential for additional time savings. Companies have estimated that a one-year delay costs them $5 to $10 million. The changes will have a direct benefit for the biologics businesses—creating valuable savings and driving growth—and the livestock industry.
American agriculture is currently experiencing its most productive period in history thanks to the resiliency, resourcefulness and efficiency of our farmers, ranchers and producers. As we move forward, APHIS will continue to find ways to modernize its services, improve the customer experience, and ensure a successful, sustainable future for rural America.