Supply Chain Security:

Examinations of High-Risk Cargo at Foreign Seaports Have Increased, but Improved Data Collection and Performance Measures Are Needed

GAO-08-187: Published: Jan 25, 2008. Publicly Released: Jan 25, 2008.

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Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Container Security Initiative (CSI) aims to identify and examine high-risk U.S.-bound cargo at foreign seaports. GAO reported in 2003 and 2005 that CSI helped to enhance homeland security, and recommended actions to strengthen the program. This report updates information and assesses how CBP has (1) contributed to strategic planning for supply chain security, (2) strengthened CSI operations, and (3) evaluated CSI operations. To address these issues, GAO interviewed CBP officials and reviewed CSI evaluations and performance measures. GAO also visited selected U.S. and CSI seaports, and met with U.S. and foreign government officials.

By collaborating on the development of the Department of Homeland Security's Strategy to Enhance International Supply Chain Security, and by revising the CSI strategic plan as GAO recommended, CBP has contributed to the overall U.S. strategic planning efforts related to enhancing the security for the overseas supply chain. Also, CBP reached its targets of operating CSI in 58 foreign seaports, and thereby having 86 percent of all U.S.-bound cargo containers pass through CSI seaports in fiscal year 2007--representing a steady increase in these measures of CSI performance. To strengthen CSI operations, CBP has sought to address human capital challenges and previous GAO recommendations by increasing CSI staffing levels closer to those called for in its staffing model and revising its human capital plan. However, challenges remain because CBP continues to rely, in part, on a temporary workforce; has not determined how to optimize its staffing resources; and reports difficulties in identifying sufficient numbers of qualified staff. In addition, CBP has enhanced relationships with host governments participating in CSI. However, hurdles to cooperation remain at some seaports, such as restrictions on CSI teams witnessing examinations. CBP improved its evaluation of CSI team performance at seaports, but limitations remain in the evaluation process that affect the accuracy and completeness of data collected. CBP has not set minimum technical criteria for equipment or systematically collected information on the equipment, people, and processes involved in CSI host government examinations of high-risk, U.S-bound container cargo. Also, CBP has not developed general guidelines to use in assessing the reliability of these examinations. Thus, CBP potentially lacks information to ensure that host government examinations can detect and identify weapons of mass destruction, which is important because containers are typically not reexamined in the United States if already examined at a CSI seaport. CBP refined overall CSI performance measures, but has not fully developed performance measures and annual targets for core CSI functions, such as the examination of high-risk containers before they are placed on vessels bound for the United States. These weaknesses in CBP's data collection and performance measures potentially limit the information available on overall CSI effectiveness.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was not consistently collecting all available data to aid in its analysis of Container Security Initiative (CSI) team performance and we identified instances in which CBP did not reconcile contradictory information it had collected. As a result, we recommended steps to strengthen CBP's process for evaluating CSI teams at overseas ports. In response to our recommendation, CBP has enhanced its standardized Container Security Initiative Team Evaluation (CSITE) tool, which captures evaluation data through over 300 closed-ended questions. According to CBP, the tool's reporting and grading capabilities provide evaluators with feedback and analysis that identify any deficiencies, and furthermore the reporting functions enable CSI Division management to conduct initiative-wide analysis to identify systematic findings. Additionally, the CSITE tool includes questions that address whether recommendations were made in a prior evaluation report and whether the recommendations have been implemented. The enhancements to the CSITE tool prompt the user to verify that each question is answered prior to answering subsequent questions. This enhancement ensures that the CSITE tool can be used as a way to monitor the completion of recommendations made in previous evaluations. These measures are consistent with the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that CBP has the information needed to assess its achievement of CSI program goals to help enhance supply chain security--while at the same time balancing security concerns with the need to facilitate the free flow of commerce--the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U. S. Customs and Border Protection to strengthen CBP's process for evaluating CSI teams at overseas ports by (a) systematically capturing and maintaining all relevant evaluation data and documentation so that it can be used by CBP management to guide operating decisions, monitor program performance, and inform resource allocation decisions; (b) ensuring that CSI evaluation teams follow established evaluation procedures; and (c) monitoring the completion, within established time frames, of recommendations made in previous evaluations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We found that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not have a sound basis for determining the reliability of the examination systems used at Container Security Initiative (CSI) seaports. As a result, we recommended that CBP improve the information gathered about the host governments' examination systems. In response to our recommendation, CBP enhanced its Container Security Initiative Team Evaluation (CSITE) tool, which includes questions that allow evaluators to note any concerns about examinations that need to be resolved. According to CBP officials, CBP also uses several methods to ensure that examinations of high-risk U.S.-bound cargo containers can reliably detect and identify potential weapons of mass destruction, including (1) conducting an initial assessment at a foreign port prior to establishing CSI operations at that port, (2) maintaining working relationships between CBP officers and host government customs officials/targeters, (3) reviewing information on inspection equipment (and their capabilities) used at the CSI ports, and (4) gathering information through the CSITE evaluations. According to CBP officials, all but four or five pieces of equipment used overseas are also equipment that CBP purchases for domestic scanning purposes; for equipment that is not used domestically, CBP has information on the specifications for that equipment. Additionally, CBP provided GAO with a copy of a database it maintains of the equipment used at CSI ports and the equipments' specifications to ensure that standards are met. These measures are consistent with the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that CBP has the information needed to assess its achievement of CSI program goals to help enhance supply chain security--while at the same time balancing security concerns with the need to facilitate the free flow of commerce--the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U. S. Customs and Border Protection to, in collaboration with host government officials, improve the information gathered about the host governments' examination systems--which includes people, processes, and equipment--at each CSI port by (a) establishing general guidelines and technical criteria regarding the minimal capability and operating procedures for an examination system that can provide CBP with a basis for determining the reliability of examinations and related CSI activities; (b) systematically collecting data for that purpose; and (c) analyzing the data against the guidelines and technical criteria to determine what, if any, mitigating actions or incentives CBP should take to help ensure the desired level of security.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We found that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had refined overall Container Security Initiative (CSI) performance measures, but had not fully developed performance measures and annual targets for core CSI functions, which could potentially limit the information available on overall CSI effectiveness. As a result, we recommended that CBP develop performance measures and targets for core CSI program functions. As of October 2010, CBP had established a performance measure, the percentage of requested examinations conducted, for which CBP established annual performance targets. According to CBP's Fiscal Year 2009 Performance and Accountability Report, this measure is an indication of the extent to which potential higher-risk cargo is satisfactorily inspected before it leaves the foreign port of origin. This annual performance report tracks this measure across fiscal years 2008 and 2009. The tracking of this performance measure is consistent with the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that CBP has the information needed to assess its achievement of CSI program goals to help enhance supply chain security--while at the same time balancing security concerns with the need to facilitate the free flow of commerce--the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U. S. Customs and Border Protection to enhance CSI performance measures to better assess CSI performance overall by (a) developing measures for all core CSI program functions designed to have a deterrent effect, (b) establishing annual performance targets--based on explicit assumptions--for all performance measures, and (c) revising how performance measures are calculated to take into account CSI program growth.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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