A congressional watchdog agency found that agriculture inspection fees collected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service continue to come up short.
Specifically, the Government Accountability Office’s analysis discovered a more than $325 million gap
between fee revenues and total program costs in fiscal year 2011, or 38 percent of Agricultural Quarantine Inspection (AQI) program costs. APHIS, for example, does not collect AQI fees for railcars consistent with its regulations, resulting in a revenue loss of $13.2 million in 2010. Further, CBP does not verify it collects fees due for every commercial truck, private aircraft, and private vessel, resulting in an unknown amount of revenue loss annually, GAO said.
The AQI program is co-administered by the Department of Agriculture’s APHIS and CBP, which is part of the Homeland Security Department. Its purpose is to guard against agriculture threats by inspecting international passengers and cargo at U.S. ports of entry, seizing prohibited material, and intercepting foreign agricultural pests. The program, which cost $861 million in 2011, is funded from annual appropriations and user fees.
CBP bridges the gap between its AQI costs and share of the fee revenues with its annual appropriation. “In keeping with its authorities and with good practices for fee-funded programs, APHIS carries over a portion of AQI collections from year to year to maintain a shared APHIS-CBP reserve to provide a cushion against unexpected declines in fee collections,” GAO said.
GAO said the gap between fee collections and program costs is caused by a handful of reasons:
- APHIS's authority does not permit it to charge all persons seeking entry to the United States, such as pedestrians, and does not allow it to charge the costs of those inspections to others.
- APHIS has chosen not to charge some classes of passengers, citing administrative fee collection difficulties.
- CBP does not charge a portion of all primary inspections to agriculture functions, as required by CBP guidance.
- APHIS does not consider all imputed costs (that is, costs incurred by other agencies on behalf of the AQI program) when setting fees.
- Allowable rates for overtime services are misaligned with the personnel costs of performing those services.
APHIS told GAO it’s considering fees that would better align many, but not all, AQI fees with related inspection activity costs.
“Until APHIS and CBP improve oversight of these collection processes, they will continue to forgo revenue due the government, which will increase reliance on appropriated funds to cover program costs,” GAO warned.