In June 2021, the USDA Office of Inspector General published its report, Animal Care Program Oversight of Dog Breeders, evaluating Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (“APHIS”) controls to ensure compliance with the Animal Welfare Act (“AWA”) and following up on the agency actions in response to a previous 2010 audit.

While this audit focused on the agencies oversight of dog breeders, the three recommendations the agency agreed to comply with, will impact all AWA licensees and registrants.  Those recommendations include:

Recommendation 1.  APHIS should ensure the data reliability and security issues with ACIS do not persist in SalesForce and eFile.

Recommendation 2.  Develop and implement guidance, policies, and procedures to ensure a consistent response to complaints and to ensure the response is sufficiently documented.

Recommendation 3.  Provide inspectors training on the process of responding to complaints, documenting actions taken, and the reason for those actions.

Regarding Recommendation 1.  Anyone who has used USDA’s Animal Care database has been frustrated about its inaccessibility at times, and lack of reliability, so, to the extent the database is publicly available, it should be reliable and functional.

Regarding Recommendation 2 and Recommendation 3, all registrants and licensees may have cause for concern about the agencies processes of responding to complaints, because of the weaponization of APHIS AC enforcement of the AWA by animal rights activists.  Those activists characterize citations on inspection reports as violations of the AWA.  They are not.  However, those entities file complaints with APHIS AC claiming that the registrants/licensees must be fined the maximum fine because they have violated the AWA.  Citations are not determinations that a facility has violated the AWA.  However, now the agency appears to be establishing additional protocols following receipt of complaints.

Should such protocols be subject to APA mandated rule promulgation and response before implementation?

If the process falls short of what is considered acceptable by activists, the agency should expect legal consequences.

If the process falls short of what is considered acceptable by licensees/registrants, the agency might expect legal consequences.

What is clear is that any such challenge diverts agency funding from actually enforcing the AWA to defending its policies and procedures.