Every year foodborne pathogens make 15 percent of the American public ill and lead to 128,000 hospitalizations. The Government Accountability Office classifies the U.S. food safety system as “high risk” due to “inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources.” Food safety inspectors play a critical role in protecting the public and are housed at the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Food and Drug Administration, and local health departments. While there has been a popular push for greater consumer disclosure of inspection results, there is also widespread concern that enforcement efforts are inconsistent across and within departments.
Improving the effectiveness of food safety enforcement is critical for protecting public health, including efforts to ensure permitted businesses comply with food safety regulations. This challenge of quality and consistency is also not unique to food safety. Agencies such as the Patent and Trademark Office, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Social Security Administration, and the Board of Veterans Appeals all struggle with similar challenges of quality and consistency in applying, enforcing, and administering the law. Quality-improvement initiatives that work therefore have implications for many other areas of governance characterized by the decentralized administration of complex bodies of law.