Washington, D.C., April 25, 2019 -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) requests comments on the agency’s authority to build and maintain a funding reserve in its Agricultural Quarantine Inspection (AQI) User Fee Program. APHIS’ AQI program supports the agency’s critical work of safeguarding U.S. agriculture and the environment from invasive plant and animal pests and diseases through inspections of commercial vessels, commercial trucks, commercial railroad cars, commercial aircraft, and international passengers. This safeguarding work is important to protect domestic agriculture from the potential pest and disease risks of international trade and travel.
In 2016, the AQI program’s revised fee structure for providing safeguarding inspection services, set by rulemaking in 2015, was challenged in court. In a 2018 ruling, the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia found that APHIS, in its rulemaking, did not properly cite its statutory authority to maintain a funding reserve. APHIS asserts that the agency has the statutory authority and the responsibility to keep a reasonable fund balance to cover program costs and administer the program when changing economic circumstances and unforeseeable events occur. This interpretation is consistent with precedent, as set forth in prior rulemaking activities. APHIS is not reexamining, seeking comments on, or otherwise reopening any other aspect of the AQI program at this time, including the AQI User Fee structure and calculations determined in 2015.
APHIS will consider all comments that we receive on the Agency’s authority to collect for and hold funds in reserve on or before May 28, 2019. For more information, please visit the following website when the rule is published tomorrow, April 26, 2019: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2013-0021