Maritime Security:

Coast Guard Inspections Identify and Correct Facility Deficiencies, but More Analysis Needed of Program's Staffing, Practices, and Data

GAO-08-12: Published: Feb 14, 2008. Publicly Released: Mar 6, 2008.

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To help secure the nation's ports against a terrorist attack, federal regulations have required cargo and other maritime facilities to have security plans in place since July 2004. U.S Coast Guard (USCG) guidance calls for an annual inspection to ensure that plans are being followed. Federal law enacted in October 2006 required such facilities to be inspected two times a year--one of which is to be conducted unannounced. The USCG plans to conduct one announced inspection and the other as a less comprehensive unannounced "spot check." GAO examined the extent to which the USCG (1) has met inspection requirements and found facilities to be complying with their plans, (2) has determined the availability of trained personnel to meet current and future facility inspection requirements, and (3) has assessed the effectiveness of its facility inspection program and ensured that program compliance data collected and reported are reliable. GAO analyzed USCG compliance data, interviewed inspectors and other stakeholders in 7 of 35 USCG sectors of varying size, geographic location, and type of waterway.

We could not determine the extent to which the USCG has met inspection requirements because its compliance database does not identify all regulated facilities to establish how many should have been inspected. While the USCG estimates there are about 3,200 facilities requiring inspection, their records indicate 2,126 annual inspections were conducted in 2006. Headquarters officials said field units reported that all required facility inspections were conducted. However, officials also said some inspections may not have been recorded, or were delayed by staff being diverted for natural disasters. The USCG identified deficiencies in about one-third of inspections, mainly for problems with access controls or missing documentation. Over 80 percent of deficiencies identified by the USCG were resolved by facility operators without the USCG applying formal enforcement actions. Although USCG officials believe they have enough trained inspectors to conduct current and future inspections, two additional factors could affect the USCG's estimates of the number of inspectors needed. First, facility inspectors balance security inspections with other competing duties, such as safety or pollution checks, and giving priority to security inspections could affect these other duties, inspectors said. Second, new guidance for spot checks calls for these checks to be more detailed--and perhaps more time-consuming--than some USCG units conducted in the past. For example, the guidance now requires an on-site visit, whereas some units had allowed the check to be a drive-by observation. The effect of the new guidance on resource requirements in these units is unknown. The USCG has not assessed the effectiveness of its facility inspection program. Headquarters guidance gives considerable discretion to local USCG units in deciding how to conduct facility inspections--for example, deciding whether a fine is warranted. The USCG has little or no information, however, on which approaches work better than others and is therefore limited in being able to make informed decisions in guiding the program. Flaws in USCG's database, including missing, duplicate, and inconsistent information, complicate the USCG's ability to conduct such analyses or provide other information for making management decisions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March, 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) completed its Sector Staffing Model, a resource allocation tool that the USCG believes will help allocate resources among its sectors (operational units). This action, together with earlier USCG action, taken beginning in June, 2008, to combine training for both security and safety inspections (expected to reduce inspection travel and time), sufficiently responds to our recommendation that USCG reassess the adequacy of resources for facility inspections. The USCG reported in July 2012 that the plan and timeline for implementation of the Sector Staffing Model outputs was recently briefed to senior USCG leadership and will be presented to the agency's Leadership Council at its August convening. These actions meet the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) facility-related inspection requirements are being implemented effectively, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to reassess the adequacy of resources for facility inspections, given changing inspection guidance and the multiple duties of sector personnel.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) indicated that to promote the sharing of best practices, as of May 2010 USCG representatives and industry can access a secure website which contains facility security communities which are used to interact and promote lessons learned from these activities. In addition, USCG reported in May 2011 that the agency was hosting its second security roundtable with District and Sector subject matter experts, who share best practices and make policy recommendations. USCG reports that the roundtable information is available year round by email, and meets annually in conjunction with the facility inspector workshop. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that MTSA facility-related inspection requirements are being implemented effectively, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to assess the effectiveness of differences in program implementation by sector to identify best practices, including the use of unannounced annual compliance exams and the varying use of enforcement actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: U.S, Coast Guard (USCG) actions sufficiently responded to our recommendation when in May, 2011, the agency reported that it had employed a full-time GS-13 management and program analyst who consistently reviews Marine Information for Safety and Law Enforcement (MISLE) data and looks for trends and gaps. USGS reported in May, 2010 that the agency had by June 2008 developed training web portals, headquarters help desks, courses, training teams, seminars, and conferences to help field personnel keep up with the changes to MISLE and to improve consistency and data entry time. The addition of GS-13 reviews of MISLE data, along with the training and other action taken, are consistent with our recommendation to take steps to more effectively use MISLE data.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that MTSA facility-related inspection requirements are being implemented effectively, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to assess Maritime Information for Safety and Law Enforcement (MISLE) compliance data, including the completeness of the data, data entry, consistency, and data field problems, and make any changes needed to more effectively utilize MISLE data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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