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Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
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Investigative and Enforcement Processes

Investigative Process

  • When APHIS personnel discover a potential violation of an APHIS-administered law, they may request a formal investigation by IES.
  • The investigation is a fact-finding mission, which may include collecting documents, taking photographs, and interviewing witnesses including the alleged violator.
  • When an alleged violator is interviewed as part of the investigative process, IES provides the alleged violator with the opportunity to submit any evidence that may demonstrate they did not violate an APHIS-administered law.

  • Once the investigation is complete, the investigator prepares a report of investigation (ROI), which summarizes the investigative findings.
  • The investigator sends the ROI and all evidence collected to IES’ enforcement staff for review.

Enforcement Process

  • When the enforcement staff receives the ROI and accompanying evidence, a specialist reviews and analyzes this information to determine if the violation is substantiated by the evidence provided.
  • If the evidence shows a violation occurred, the enforcement staff determines whether an enforcement action is appropriate. 
  • When preparing penalty recommendations, IES relies on the penalty provisions contained in the relevant APHIS-administered law.  Each statute contains a unique provision, and IES applies penalty adjustments for aggravating and mitigating factors.  
  • Before carrying out any enforcement action, IES consults with the referring program.
  • Enforcement actions may include an official warning, a voluntary settlement agreement, a referral to USDA’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC) to institute an administrative proceeding or, in cases involving the most serious violations, a referral to the U.S. Department of Justice for civil or criminal action.
  • When IES issues an official warning, it closes the investigative file involving the alleged violation.
  • Pre-litigation settlement agreements.
    • IES may offer to alleged violators pre-litigation settlement agreements.  These may include monetary penalties or other sanctions, and generally contain terms that are more favorable to the alleged violator than what APHIS would seek through administrative, civil, or criminal action.
    • If the alleged violator accepts the settlement agreement, IES closes its investigative file.  If the alleged violator does not accept the settlement agreement, IES will refer the violation to OGC for administrative action.

IES may also refer a violation directly to OGC for administrative action without first offering a settlement agreement. The Rules of Practice Applicable to Proceedings Pending Before the Secretary of Agriculture govern all proceedings filed by OGC. 


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