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During the past year, information gathered by Food and Drug Administration staff in new overseas offices led to import bulletins warning of possible contamination of Chinese food by toxic pesticides, Chinese flour bleached with limestone, and Indian food that used pesticide-contaminated water, according to a new watchdog report.

The FDA import bulletins, which are valid for 90 days, aim to collect samples and more information about possible contamination. “In these cases, FDA officials in the United States reported that they would not have known about this information in such a timely manner without being informed by the overseas offices,” the Government Accountability Office report said. The report did not identify the specific products covered by the import bulletins.

The FDA began opening overseas offices in late 2008 after highly publicized incidents involving melamine-tainted pet food from China and contamination of a blood-thinner drug from a Chinese ingredient. The GAO said that the offices have struggled to build relationships with foreign regulators, and to recruit and retain staff with the necessary language skills.

“Demands on the agency have soared, due in past of the globalization of the industries that the FDA regulates,” the report notes. If stricter food safety legislation is enacted, the overseas offices worry they may receive an overwhelming number of requests for information. Without changes in the FDA’s staffing strategies, “there is little assurance that FDA will be able to place the right people in the right position, at the right time,” the GAO warns.

The FDA has a total of 38 agency staffers in its offices in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai, China; New Delhi and Mumbai in India; Brussels, London, and Parma in Europe; and in San Jose, Costa Rica, and Mexico City.

FAST FACT: The FDA regulates imports of food, drugs, and veterinary products from over 200 countries. The volume of imports tripled in the last decade to about 17 million products in 2008.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities. Congressional Research Service reports, which prepared for lawmakers but not made public, were provided by the Center for Democracy and Technology.


  • Treasury Dept’s recent projection that the AIG bailout will cost taxpayers $5 billion instead of $45 billion failed to disclose how it reached that calculation, leaving Treasury “vulnerable to charges that it has manipulated its methodology.” The department’s Home Affordable Modification Program has resulted in only 467,000 permanent modifications, with fewer than half funded by the TARP bailout program. (Special Inspector General for TARP)
  • Credit card companies paid a combined $83.5 million to colleges, alumni groups, and other affiliated organizations to open 53,164 new accounts for college students in 2009. Bank of America, U.S. Bank National Association, and Chase Bank were the biggest issuers of cards to students last year. (Federal Reserve).


  • A “civilian surge” to place more U.S. federal employees in government posts in Afghanistan has encountered problems because the civilians lack knowledge about their roles and have difficulties with the civilian-military partnership. (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction).

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