Food Engineering

Federal government needs to reduce fragmentation in food safety oversight

April 6, 2011
The Food Safety Working Group is a first step in the right direction in reducing government fragmentation in the oversight of food safety, but more planning is required.


For more than a decade, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) has reported on the fragmentation of federal food safety oversight and how it results in inconsistent supervision, ineffective coordination and inefficient use of resources. In 2007, GAO added this issue to its high-risk list.

In March 2009, President Obama established the Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) to coordinate federal efforts and establish food safety goals to make food safer. Section 21 of Public Law 111-139 mandated that GAO identify programs, agencies, offices and initiatives with duplicated goals and activities. The review examines:

  1. Steps, if any, that the FSWG has taken to increase collaboration among federal food safety agencies.
  2. Options GAO and others have identified to reduce fragmentation, overlap and potential duplication in food safety oversight.

Creation of the FSWG elevated food safety to a national priority, demonstrated strong commitment and top leadership support and was designed to foster interagency collaboration on this cross-cutting issue. Although much has been accomplished, there is much more to do, and GAO has issued a recommendation.

To improve collaboration among federal agencies on food safety oversight and provide an integrated perspective on this crosscutting issue, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with the federal agencies that have food safety responsibilities, should develop a government-wide performance plan for food safety. The performance plan should include results-oriented goals and performance measures for food safety oversight throughout the federal government, as well as a discussion about strategies and resources. It should be updated on an annual basis.

A complete version of the report, Federal Food Safety Oversight: Food Safety Working Group Is a Positive First Step but Government-wide Planning is Needed to Address Fragmentation, can be downloaded from the GAO website. An executive summary is also available. The full report has an appendix showing all 15 federal government agencies that have responsibility for food safety.