Container Security:

A Flexible Staffing Model and Minimum Equipment Requirements Would Improve Overseas Targeting and Inspection Efforts

GAO-05-557: Published: Apr 26, 2005. Publicly Released: May 25, 2005.

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In January 2002, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) initiated the Container Security Initiative (CSI) to address the threat that terrorists might use maritime cargo containers to ship weapons of mass destruction. Under CSI, CBP is to target and inspect high-risk cargo shipments at foreign seaports before they leave for destinations in the United States. In July 2003, GAO reported that CSI had management challenges that limited its effectiveness. Given these challenges and in light of plans to expand the program, GAO examined selected aspects of the program's operation, including the (1) factors that affect CBP's ability to target shipments at foreign seaports, (2) extent to which high-risk containers have actually been inspected overseas, and (3) extent to which CBP formulated and documented strategies for achieving the program's goals.

Some of the positive factors that have affected CBP's ability to target shipments overseas are improved information sharing between U.S. and foreign customs staff and a heightened level of bilateral cooperation and international awareness of the need to secure the whole global shipping system. Although the program aims to target all U.S.-bound shipments from CSI ports, it has been unable to do so because of staffing imbalances. CBP has developed a staffing model to determine staffing needs but has been unable to fully staff some ports because of diplomatic considerations (e.g., the need for host government permission) and practical considerations (e.g., workspace constraints). As a result, 35 percent of these shipments were not targeted and were therefore not subject to inspection overseas. In addition, the staffing model's reliance on placing staff at CSI ports rather than considering whether some of the targeting functions could be performed in the United States limits the program's operational efficiency and effectiveness. CBP has not established minimum technical requirements for the detection capability of nonintrusive inspection and radiation detection equipment used as part of CSI. Ports participating in CSI use various types of nonintrusive inspection equipment to inspect containers, and the detection and identification capabilities of such equipment can vary. In addition, technologies to detect other weapons of mass destruction have limitations. Given these conditions, CBP has limited assurance that inspections conducted under CSI are effective at detecting and identifying terrorist weapons of mass destruction. A lthough CBP has made some improvements in the management of CSI, we found that further refinements to the bureau's management tools are needed to help achieve program objectives. In July 2003, we recommended that CBP develop a strategic plan and performance measures, including outcome-oriented measures, for CSI. CBP developed a strategic plan for CSI in February 2004 that contains three of the six key elements required for agency strategic plans, and CBP officials told us they continue to develop the other three elements. While it appears that the bureau's efforts in this area meet the intent of our prior recommendation to develop a strategic plan for CSI, we will continue to monitor progress in this area. CBP has also made progress in the development of outcome-oriented performance measures, particularly for the program objective of increasing information sharing and collaboration among CSI and host country personnel. However, CBP continues to face challenges in developing performance measures to assess the effectiveness of CSI targeting and inspection activities. Therefore, it is difficult to assess progress made in CSI operations over time, and it is difficult to compare CSI operations across ports.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), it has taken the following Corrective Actions: It evaluates the minimum level of staff that would need to be assigned at a foreign location in order to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the host nation officials and ensure the integrity of the Container Security Initiative (CSI) operations. CBP also assesses the staffing levels that would need to be maintained at a location within the United States to support/augment CSI activities. The CSI program has adjusted its staffing allocation model by stationing targets at the National Targeting Center (NTC) to augment CSI personnel overseas. Based on work GAO performed in a follow-on engagement of the CSI program in 2007-2008, GAO concurs that these actions are sufficient for addressing the recommendation and considers this recommendation as being implemented.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the objectives of CSI are achieved, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to revise the CSI staffing model to consider (1) what functions need to be performed at CSI ports and what functions can be performed in the United States, (2) the optimum levels of staff needed at CSI ports to maximize the benefits of targeting and inspection activities in conjunction with host nation customs officials, and (3) the cost of locating targeters overseas at CSI ports instead of in the United States.

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

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), it has taken the following corrective actions: It has promoted the World Customs Organization (WCO) framework as an avenue to address an "international standard" for container and seaport security. CBP included a generic statement within the Declaration of Principles (DOP) to use as the standard for Non-Intrusive Imaging (NII)equipment utilized at Container Security Initiative (CSI) ports. CBP believes that this will address Congressional concerns on technical standards. The source used to revise the DOP is the World Customs Organization Customs Compendium - Container Scanning Equipment. CBP believes that based on this approach, it will not be required to renegotiate with current CSI partners as they already utilize NII that meets or exceeds what the U.S. is using. Therefore, according to CBP, all it has to be concerned about are the future partners, which it believes will be addressed by the verbiage under the Compendium. Based on a follow-on review of the CSI program in 2007-2008, GAO believes that this action is not sufficient to fully address the recommendation, but CBP plans to take no further actions. CBP and GAO have agreed to disagree on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the objectives of CSI are achieved, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to establish minimum technical requirements for the capabilities of nonintrusive inspection equipment at CSI ports, to include imaging and radiation detection devices, that help ensure that all equipment used can detect WMD, while considering the need not to endorse certain companies and sovereignty issues with participating countries.

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

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), it has developed "rigorous performance measures." For each performance measure, it uses a series of indicators to assess operational performance. The performance indicators include: Outcome:(1) percentage of worldwide U.S.-destined containers processed through Container Security Initiative (CSI); and (2) number of foreign mitigated examinations by category. Output: (1) number of intelligence reports based on CSI foreign sources;(2) number of operational CSI ports;(3) number of positive findings by category; and (4) number of investigative cases initiated due to CSI intelligence. Efficiency: average cost per CSI port to achieve operational status. Based on a follow-on review of the CSI program in 2007-2008, GAO concurs that these actions are sufficient for addressing the recommendation and considers this recommendation as being implemented.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the objectives of CSI are achieved, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to develop performance measures that include outcome-based measures and performance targets (or proxies as appropriate) to track the program's progress in meeting all of its objectives.

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

 

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