APHIS Milestone: June 2007 ‐ Creation of APHIS’s International Technical and Regulatory Capacity Building Center
International capacity building has been an integral part of APHIS’s mission since the Agency’s inception and even before. Prior to the official recognition of APHIS, APHIS employees worked side‐by‐side with Mexican colleagues to successfully control and eventually eradicate Foot‐and‐Mouth Disease in Mexico in the 1950s and later screwworm from Mexico and Latin America. Although not specifically referred to as “international capacity building,” the basis of any successful disease or pest control/eradication program is a strong agricultural health infrastructure that is ready and capable of responding quickly and appropriately to such emergencies. APHIS employees gained much practical experience in combating animal diseases such tuberculosis, brucellosis, and hog cholera (later known as “classical swine fever’)
during the mid‐1900s. Consequently, they were well‐equipped and knowledgeable to provide technical assistance to our neighbors to the south when the need arose.
When APHIS was officially established in 1972, international activities were primarily directed by “international arms” of Veterinary Services and Plant Protection and Quarantine. During that time, APHIS continued to provide international outreach primarily in the Western Hemisphere through such initiatives as the on‐going screwworm control and eradication efforts in Central America and the eradication programs against African Swine Fever on the Island of Hispaniola in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Those campaigns were conducted with the assistance of a few full‐time APHIS employees, and by the deployment of several domestically‐based APHIS employees on short‐term temporary duty assignments. The technical assistance offered by those employees was the “foundation” of APHIS’s international capacity building outreach today.
By the mid 1980s APHIS was officially recognized as a new Foreign Affairs Agency under the Foreign Service Act of 1980 and began to accept APHIS employees into its newly established Foreign Service (FS) Specialist positions. Those specialists chose career paths to work primarily overseas and later became the “APHIS FS cadre,” which in 1989 fell under the authority of APHIS’s newly established “International Services (IS).”
In 1994 a significant event transpired that would further emphasize and propel APHIS forward in its role of international capacity building. That event was the signing of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and its associated World Trade Organization Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (“SPS Agreement”). Under Article 9 of the Agreement covering “Technical Assistance,” Members agreed to facilitate the provision of technical assistance to other Members, especially developing country Members, either bilaterally or through appropriate international organizations. As a result, the volume of requests for APHIS’s technical assistance and support of visitors in the areas of plant and animal health increased significantly during the late 1990s and into the new millennium.
In the mid‐1990s APHIS created the Visitors Center under IS to manage incoming requests from foreign officials to visit with APHIS officials and/or to tour various APHIS facilities in the U.S. By mid‐2005, APHIS recognized the need to define a means to address an increasing number of international visits, as well as an increasing number of requests for overseas technical assistance from developing countries while still maintaining a primary focus on addressing domestic needs to serve and protect American agriculture. The outcome was the creation of APHIS’s “International Technical and Regulatory Capacity Building (ITRCB) Center” in June 2007, consisting of a small Headquarters‐based staff including those servicing APHIS’s International Visitors Center. The ITRCB Center was placed under APHIS IS because of its focus on international outreach and the IS mission to provide internationally‐based animal and plant health expertise and service that enhances USDA APHIS’s capacity to safeguard American agricultural health, to strengthen emergency response preparedness, and to facilitate safe agricultural trade.
The ITRCB Center now serves as the entry point for nearly all international requests to APHIS for visits or technical assistance. The requested topics vary from biotechnology, regulatory processes and policy, pest risk assessment, epidemiology, wildlife control and surveillance, transboundary animal disease control and surveillance, diagnostics, and other aspects of animal and plant quarantine and inspection. The requests originate from a myriad of sources, have different objectives, and often include other issues associated with them. Key challenges for APHIS include managing the volume of requests, effective and efficient prioritization and allocation of resources to fulfill them, and documentation of these activities to support Congressional budget requests.
When created, the ITRCB Center was charged with six primary goals, namely to: 1) standardize approaches to receiving and handling requests, 2) prioritize requests, 3) automate processes, 4) access funding, 5) analyze and standardize training needs, and 6) improve international visitors’ experiences. Since then, the ITRCB established points of contact with each APHIS Program to coordinate and jointly review the merits of each international request depending upon the subject matter. It also developed and implements five standard, prioritization criteria to determine whether a request: 1) falls under APHIS’s mandate versus another agency, 2) supports a Presidential or Secretarial priority, 3) promotes safe trade or safeguards U.S. agriculture, 4) provides for staff or organizational development, and/or 5) promotes other U.S. Government agencies.
The ITRCB team also developed and implements a Web‐based electronic process that captures and integrates all phases from receipt of the requests, prioritization, tracking of their status, implementation of the activities, evaluation, reporting, and follow‐up. When an activity is directly linked to its mission and priorities, APHIS may share its resources and personnel for international technical assistance while leveraging additional resources from key collaborators. However, the ITRCB has also defined a process for full‐cost recovery of APHIS experts’ involvement in international outreach when it makes sense and is feasible. The ITRCB team also developed with APHIS colleagues seven core animal and plant health training courses, which are held annually in the U.S., for international audiences. Lastly, the APHIS International Visitors Center automated its process for receiving, handling, tracking, and reporting of international visits and works in close collaboration with other U.S. agencies to assure that each international visitor is treated with dignity and respect and hopefully experiences a positive, meaningful visit with APHIS colleagues.
In Fiscal Year 2011, the ITRCB Center received and coordinated 160 requests for subject matter expertise, trainings and other activities from all APHIS programs. APHIS programs approved and successfully completed 104 of those that met our prioritization criteria. During the same time, the APHIS International Visitors Center hosted 81 international groups consisting of 585 visitors. Although visitors were of global origin, nearly half of the total visits originated from the Asia‐Pacific region of the world.
Looking toward the future APHIS will continue to play an instrumental role globally in providing technical assistance and expertise in the areas of plant and animal health. APHIS will also continue to work collaboratively with other U.S. Government agencies, international organizations, and strategic partners to share and leverage resources to help build sustainable agricultural health infrastructures throughout the world.