The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently delivered its evaluation of how well federal agencies have implemented the nation’s food and agricultural defense policy known as Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD)-9. Established to protect the food supply “against terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies,” HSPD-9 divides emergency response activities among several agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, the latter of which has designated a system of emergency support functions (ESFs) within a National Response Framework. According to the August 2011 GAO report, however, “There is no centralized coordination to oversee the federal government’s overall progress implementing… HSPD-9.”

In testimony before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, GAO Natural Resources and Environmental Director Lisa Shames explained that because this general oversight is lacking, the agencies responsible for HSPD-9 cannot guarantee their “cross-cutting” efforts are “well-designed and effectively implemented in order to reduce vulnerability to, and the impact of, terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies.” In particular, Shames noted that not only has USDA failed to deploy a department-wide strategy for implementing its HSPD-9 responsibilities, but that the agency faces numerous challenges when coordinating federal (ESF-11) natural disaster responses.  

To this end, GAO has urged DHS to better coordinate HSPD-9 activities, while also calling on USDA to discharge its own HSPD-9 responsibilities and ensure that after-action ESF-11 reports are completed. “In our report, we are making nine recommendations to help ensure that the federal government is effectively implementing the nation’s food and agriculture defense policy and to ensure that the nation is adequately prepared to respond to and recover from emergencies affecting food and agriculture,” concludes Shames. “In addition, in an e-mail received July 22, 2011, the National Security Staff’s Deputy Legal Advisor stated that the National Security Staff agrees that a review of HSPD-9 is appropriate and that they will look for an opportunity to do so.”