A Congressional Directive included in last month’s spending bill rightly takes USDA to task for not doing its job.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is tasked with inspecting every facility that conducts or holds experiments on animals to look for violations of federal law governing animal care. Another part of USDA - the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) - is supposed to convey those findings to Congress, among other things.
When President Trump signed a large government funding bill last month, it included a little-known Congressional Directive that takes APHIS to task - again - for not doing their job. Here’s that report language:
"The Committees have read the quarterly reports on animal welfare issues submitted by ARS. While providing helpful information, on some issues, ARS did not report a single specific negative finding by APHIS inspectors, despite the fact that numerous violations have been found involving the death of numerous animals and serious health issues of many more. The failure to report these problems to the Committees is unacceptable. The conferees direct ARS to submit a single report covering all violations found by APHIS to date and the specific actions taken to prevent them from recurring within 60 days of enactment. They also direct ARS to continue to submit quarterly reports that include all violations found by APHIS during that quarter and the specific actions that will be taken to prevent their recurrence. The quarterly reports shall also include each issue found by APHIS inspectors at the pre-compliance inspections of newly covered research activities and the remedial actions taken. "
Why This Matters to Congress: Congress decides how much funding APHIS should get every year to do their job, and this year Congress gave APHIS over $1 billion for staff salaries and expenses. When APHIS fails to report that they found any violations, it indicates either that APHIS has stopped taking their job seriously, or they’re not taking the Congressional oversight role seriously. Either one is a great way for APHIS to get their funding cut by Congress eventually.
Why we’re grateful: It’s great that a majority of Members of Congress supported this language, meaning APHIS’s attempts at obstruction just backfired in a big way. After all, APHIS relies on the House and Senate for its funding, and a majority of those Members have gone on record condemning APHIS for falling down on the job. And we’re exceedingly grateful to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for holding APHIS accountable.
Why this matters to us: The purpose of these inspections is simple: to hold these entities accountable for any violations of the Animal Welfare Act. These inspection reports are then made public, and Congress relies on quarterly reports of these inspections as part of its oversight duties. The reports are essential to hold experimenters accountable when their actions are unlawful.
APHIS has a long history of trying to undermine the spirit and intent of the Animal Welfare Act and their role in enforcing it. Just two years ago APHIS caused an outcry when they - without warning or authority - deleted their entire database of inspection reports. While Congress got the records mostly restored, it’s clear that the House and Senate aren’t going to sit idly by as APHIS schemes to minimize and/or outright hide animal abuse findings, and this language is a great proof point that Congress is our best hope of preserving transparency in this process.