Washington, D.C., January 15, 2020 -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has finalized an interpretive rule clarifying the Agency’s ability to maintain a funding reserve in its Agricultural Quarantine Inspection (AQI) User Fee Program. APHIS’s AQI user fee 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 2015, APHIS revised the AQI program’s fee structure for providing safeguarding inspection services through rulemaking. In 2016, the revised fee schedule was challenged in court. In a 2018 ruling the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued a decision in which APHIS prevailed on three of four counts raised. However, the Court found that APHIS could not rely on the “reasonable balance” language in 21 U.S.C. § 136a(a)(1)(C) to maintain a reserve because the authority to do so expired after fiscal year 2002. In this final interpretive rule, APHIS asserts that it has the statutory authority and responsibility to keep a reserve 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 did not reexamine any other aspect of the AQI program determined in 2015.
This final interpretive rule is effective on February 18, 2020, following publication in the Federal Register on January 16, 2020.