Notice to Licensees and AWA Licensees. How the USDA OIG Audit Report: Dog Breeders Animal Care Program Oversight May Impact You. | Fox Rothschild LLP

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

While this audit focused on agency oversight of dog breeders, the three recommendations the agency has agreed to adhere to will impact all AWA license and registration holders. These recommendations include:

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

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

Recommendation 3. Provide training to inspectors on the complaint response process, documentation of actions taken and the reason for those actions.

Regarding Recommendation 1. Anyone who has used the USDA Animal Care database has at times been frustrated by its inaccessibility and unreliability. Therefore, as long as the database is accessible to the public, it should be reliable and functional.

Regarding recommendations 2 and 3, all registrants and licensees may have reason to be concerned about agency processes for responding to complaints, due to the militarization of the APHIS AC enforcement of the ‘AWA by animal rights activists. These activists characterize citations on inspection reports as violations of the AWA. They are not. However, these entities file complaints with APHIS AC, claiming that registrants / licensees should be assessed the maximum fine for violating the AWA. The citations are not determinations that a facility has violated the AWA. However, the agency now appears to be establishing additional protocols following receipt of complaints.

Should such protocols be subject to the enactment and response of the rules mandated by the APA prior to implementation?

If the process does not achieve what is considered acceptable by activists, the agency should expect legal consequences.

If the process does not achieve what is considered acceptable by licensees / holders, the agency can expect legal consequences.

What is clear is that such a challenge diverts agency funding from the effective enforcement of the AWA to the defense of its policies and procedures.

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