Office of Policy, Program Development and Evaluation
Meat and Poultry Advisory Committee Staff
National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection
November 6-7, 2002
The Under Secretary’s vision for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is one in which the Agency not only makes significant scientific policy improvements that will result in positive, measurable public health outcomes, but will also serve as a role model of management effectiveness and efficiency. To achieve this vision, FSIS must apply state-of-the-art science and management practices that will improve its inspection system and thereby enhance the public health.
The inspection system is comprised of a field workforce whose members’ knowledge, skills and abilities differ widely. They also have very diverse educational backgrounds. If the Agency is to succeed as a public health agency, FSIS must focus its training efforts on providing the employees with the tools that will enable them to make decisions based on sound scientific and public health principles. FSIS is seeking comments from the Subcommittee on the steps FSIS should take to ensure that its field workforce has the needed education and training to make this vision a reality.
Prior to FSIS achieving the current fully operational Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)-based inspection system, the Agency recognized that the transition to a science-based, preventive regulatory approach would require changes in the qualifications of the workforce. The Agency envisioned a workforce with more advanced scientific and technical skills. FSIS identified core competencies in food production practices, auditing skills, and production systems verification. The Agency then proceeded to develop a workforce with these skills by: (1) educating and retraining current employees, and (2) recruiting and hiring new employees in occupational series that focused on these skills and qualifications.
Education and Retraining: The physical dispersion of its workforce makes training, communication, and supervision a challenge for the FSIS Office of Field Operations (OFO). OFO has limited flexibility to efficiently release personnel for training and development activities because more than half of the frontline workforce, as the statutes mandate, must be present at livestock and poultry slaughter lines. In addition, since 1998 the Agency has been undergoing a major cultural change that has shifted its regulatory framework and approach to inspection away from a "command and control" approach to a preventive, systems approach. Many in our current workforce have not made the transition adequately -- due largely to the fact that the new framework demands a more scientifically capable and adaptable workforce than the Agency has employed in the past.
Recent audits have criticized FSIS because the inspectors do not possess a clear understanding of their roles and they do not consistently identify and document noncompliance with food safety regulatory requirements. The audits also recognize that the Agency needs a more scientifically capable workforce that can focus on food safety system design issues.
Ideally, the Agency should provide employees a solid program of initial training when they report to their first assignment; follow-up training that reinforces acquired skills; (continuation training) and advanced skills training to prepare the employee for advancement. Most of the training now available to field employees is conducted "in residence" at the College Station, Texas, office of the FSIS Center for Learning (CFL). In fiscal year 2002, over 1,800 field employees received technical training from the CFL and/or completed advanced courses offered by Texas A&M University. CFL also offers two computer-based training courses. However, computer-aided training has been used with limited success. For example, the computer-based training in meat and poultry processing was used to train 210 field employees, with only a 65 percent completion rate. Feedback from employees who participated in both computer-based training courses indicates a field preference for more classroom training that provides greater interaction between students and instructors. Additionally, inadequate computer skills on the part of the trainees has contributed to this limited success.
The CFL has developed a business plan which addresses many of the deficiencies in its training program, and has already implemented some of the recommendations put forth in the business plan. Additionally, OFO is current developing the training needed to retrain its in-plant workforce in HACCP, Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures, and Sanitation Performance Standards. Perhaps the greatest challenge in this effort is in determining the most effective delivery method to provide training that results in improved skill and performance, but at the same time is economically feasible and available in plant or district locations.
Recruiting and Hiring for Needed Skills: Studies by the National Academy of Sciences, the General Accounting Office (GAO), and FSIS established the need for fundamental change in the inspection program if the Agency is to improve its public health effectiveness. Among the changes identified in the studies was the need to redeploy Agency resources in a manner that better protects the public from foodborne illnesses. Therefore, to better ensure public health in the pathogen reduction and HACCP environment, FSIS has needed frontline employees who possess a scientific background and who are able to assess and verify the design of food safety systems.
The Agency identified the consumer safety officer (CSO) occupational series as a way to fill that need. CSOs must have at least 30 semester hours of related science course work, and those without a bachelor’s degree must have 1 year of specialized experience. The educational background and job experience requirements provide a basis for making scientific assessments of food safety processes and systems. CSOs also must successfully complete a 4-week training course before beginning their duties.
The GAO’s recent audit report recognizes that FSIS was aware of its need for a more scientifically trained and capable workforce that could identify problems with the design of food safety systems. In the report GAO accurately described FSIS’ previous plan to add several hundred CSOs to its workforce. However, budget constraints have limited the Agency’s ability to train and hire CSO’s. The Agency now has 104 employees trained as CSOs and plans to train an additional 105 this fiscal year. FSIS is not only providing the specialized training to the CSOs that it hires, but the Agency also is training some veterinarians in the CSO methodology. The ratio of CSOs to "CSO-trained" veterinarians is about 3 to 1. To date, CSOs have been hired from within FSIS, but the Agency expects to begin recruiting from outside sources this fiscal year.
Keeping in mind the Agency’s goal to sharpen its public health focus and its emphasis on improving the scientific basis for the policies that are carried out by the field workforce:
Cheryl A. Hicks, Program Manager, Office of Field Operations
Myhre "Bud" Paulson, Chief Training Officer
Side-by-Side Comparison of
Inspection/Verification Work Performed in FSIS
Send mail to
webmaster with questions or comments
about this web site.