Cargo Security:

Partnership Program Grants Importers Reduced Scrutiny with Limited Assurance of Improved Security

GAO-05-404: Published: Mar 11, 2005. Publicly Released: May 25, 2005.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Stephen L. Caldwell
(202) 512-8816
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

This report is a publicly available version of our report on the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated our original report as Limited Official Use because of the sensitive and specific nature of the information it contained. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the DHS bureau responsible for protecting the nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry, has the dual goals of preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States and also facilitating the flow of legitimate trade and travel. Approximately 90 percent of the world's cargo moves by container. Addressing the threat posed by the movement of containerized cargo across U.S. borders has traditionally posed many challenges for CBP, in particular balancing the bureau's border protection functions and trade enforcement mission with its goal of facilitating the flow of cargo and persons into the United States. CBP has said that the large volume of imports and its limited resources make it impossible to physically inspect all oceangoing containers without disrupting the flow of commerce, and it is unrealistic to expect that all containers warrant such inspection. To address its responsibility to improve cargo security while facilitating commerce, CBP employs multiple strategies. Among these strategies, CBP has in place an initiative known as C-TPAT, which aims to secure the flow of goods bound for the United States by developing a strong, voluntary antiterrorism partnership with the trade community. C-TPAT members commit to improving the security of their supply chain (flow of goods from manufacturer to retailer) and develop written security profiles that outline the security measures in place for the company's supply chain. In exchange for this commitment, CBP offers C-TPAT members benefits for participating that may reduce the level of scrutiny given to their shipments, potentially resulting in a reduced number of inspections of their cargo at U.S. borders. The program is promising, but previous work has raised concerns about its management and its ability to achieve its ultimate goal of improved cargo security. Given our past concerns about the program's effectiveness and in light of the program's rapid expansion, we examined selected aspects of the program's operation and management. This report addresses the following issues: (1) What benefits does CBP provide to C-TPAT members? (2) Before providing benefits, what approach does CBP take to determine C-TPAT members' eligibility for them? (3) After providing benefits, how does CBP verify that members have implemented their security measures? and (4) To what extent has CBP developed strategies and related management tools for achieving the program's goals?

In return for committing to making improvements to the security of their shipments by joining the program, C-TPAT members receive a range of benefits that reduce the level of scrutiny CBP provides to their shipments bound for the United States. These benefits may change the risk characterization of their shipments, thereby reducing the probability of extensive documentary and physical inspection. Other benefits include access to FAST lanes on the Canadian and Mexican borders, expedited cargo processing at FAST lanes, and an emphasis on self-policing and self-monitoring of security activities. In addition, CBP grants benefits to C-TPAT members that do not directly affect the level of scrutiny given to their shipments. Before providing benefits, CBP uses a two-pronged approach to assess C-TPAT members. First, CBP has a certification process to review the self-reported information contained in applicants' membership agreements and security profiles. Second, CBP has in place a vetting process to try to assess the compliance with customs laws and regulations and violation history of and intelligence data on importers before granting them benefits. CBP believes that this two-pronged approach provides adequate assurance before granting benefits. However, this approach grants benefits to members before they undergo the validation process. After providing benefits, CBP has a validation process to verify that C-TPAT members' security measures have been implemented and that program benefits should continue. However, we found several weaknesses in the validation process that compromise CBP's ability to provide an actual verification that supply chain security measures in C-TPAT members' security profiles are accurate and are being followed. First, the validation process is not rigorous enough to achieve its stated purpose, which is to ensure that the security procedures outlined in members' security profiles are reliable, accurate, and effective. Related to this, CBP has no written guidelines for its supply chain specialists to indicate what scope of effort is adequate for the validation to ensure that the member's measures are reliable, accurate, and effective. In addition, CBP has not determined the extent to which validations are needed. While CBP has recently completed a strategic plan, we found weaknesses in some of the tools it uses to manage the program that could hinder the bureau in achieving the program's dual goals of securing the flow of goods bound for the United States and facilitating the flow of trade. CBP's new strategic plan appears to provide the bureau with a general framework on which to base key decisions, including key strategic planning elements such as strategic goals, objectives, and strategies. However, CBP still lacks a human capital plan, a fact that has impaired its ability to manage its resources. Furthermore, CBP still has not developed a comprehensive set of performance measures and indicators, including outcome-based measures, to monitor the status of program goals. Finally, the C-TPAT program lacks an effective records management system.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CBP has developed a human capital plan, which outlines a program management structure to provide defined roles and responsibilities for reviewing C-TPAT company security profiles, vetting their security information, and conducting validations. Also, the plan provides a model for determining C-TAPT staffing requirements for conducting validations in a timely manner and outlines plans for recruitment and training courses to address short-term and long-term needs, especially to comply with the timeframes in the SAFE Port Act. In addition, CBP increased the C-TPAT staff by 280 percent from 41 specialists in 2005 to a total of 156 specialists in 2007.

    Recommendation: To help CBP achieve C-TPAT objectives and address the challenges associated with its continued development, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to complete a human capital plan that clearly describes how the C-TPAT program will recruit, train, and retain sufficient staff to successfully conduct the work of the program, including reviewing security profiles, vetting, and conducting validations to mitigate program risk.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CBP has taken steps to develop performance measures, including several performance targets, for many C-TPAT program goals and activities. These measures focus on program participation, facilitation of trade and travel, program administration and internationalization of C-TPAT principles. As CBP gains more experience with assessing C-TPAT performance, the agency is committed to continuing to refine its performance measures.

    Recommendation: To help CBP achieve C-TPAT objectives and address the challenges associated with its continued development, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to complete the development of performance measures, to include outcome-based measures and performance targets, to track the program's status in meeting its strategic goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CBP has developed and implemented a certification and validation strategy and set goals, which comply with or exceed those required by the Security and Accountability for Every Port Act of 2006 (SAFE Port Act) that CBP validate C-TPAT members within one year of certification and revalidate them within 4 years of initial validation. Also, CBP has implemented a graduated three tier process for granting benefits to importer companies.

    Recommendation: To help CBP achieve C-TPAT objectives and address the challenges associated with its continued development, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to determine the extent (in terms of numbers or percentage) to which members should be validated in lieu of the original goal to validate all members within 3 years of certification.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CBP developed and implemented C-TPAT minimum security criteria for 6 or the 7 trade sectors participating in the program, and is in the process of developing the criteria for the seventh sector. To be eligible for C-TPAT benefits, participants must adhere to these criteria, which were developed jointly by CBP and the trade community. These criteria are used by CBP's supply chain security specialists to measure a company's overall commitment to C-PAT and enhancing supply chain security.

    Recommendation: To help CBP achieve C-TPAT objectives and address the challenges associated with its continued development, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to strengthen the validation process by providing appropriate guidance to specialists conducting validations, including what level of review is adequate to determine whether member security practices are reliable, accurate, and effective.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CBP developed and implemented C-TPAT business portal--an electronic platform for data storage and secure interaction and communication with C-TPAT applicants, partners, and supply chain security specialist staff. The portal provides real-time access to C-TPAT information, tools, and database for managing the C-TPAT program. Also, the information captured in portal includes validation milestones to help ensure compliance the SAFE Port Act.

    Recommendation: To help CBP achieve C-TPAT objectives and address the challenges associated with its continued development, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to implement a records management system that accurately and timely documents key decisions and significant operational events, including a reliable system for (1) documenting and maintaining records of all decisions in the application through validation processes, including but not limited to documentation of the objectives, scope, methodologies, and limitations of validations, and (2) tracking member status.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Dec 17, 2014

Nov 6, 2014

Oct 14, 2014

Sep 30, 2014

Sep 24, 2014

Sep 18, 2014

Sep 17, 2014

Sep 10, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here