Supply Chain Security:

DHS Should Test and Evaluate Container Security Technologies Consistent with All Identified Operational Scenarios to Ensure the Technologies Will Function as Intended

GAO-10-887: Published: Sep 29, 2010. Publicly Released: Sep 29, 2010.

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Cargo containers could be used to transport unlawful cargo, including weapons of mass destruction, illicit arms, stowaways, and illegal narcotics into the United States. Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for container security. To enhance container security, CBP has partnered with DHS's Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate to develop performance standards--requirements that must be met by products to ensure they will function as intended--for container security technologies. After successful completion of testing, S&T plans to deliver performance standards to DHS's Office of Policy Development and CBP. As requested, this report addresses (1) the extent to which DHS has made progress in conducting research and development and defining performance standards for the technologies, and (2) the remaining steps and challenges, if any, DHS could face in implementing the technologies. GAO, among other things, reviewed master test plans for S&T's four ongoing container security technology projects, and interviewed DHS officials.

DHS has conducted research and development for four container security technology projects, but has not yet developed performance standards for them. From 2004 through 2009, S&T spent approximately $60 million and made varying levels of progress in the research and development of its four container security technology projects. These projects include the Advanced Container Security Device (ACSD), to detect intrusion on all six sides of a container; the Container Security Device (CSD), to detect the opening or removal of container doors; the Hybrid Composite Container, a lightweight container with an embedded sensor grid to detect intrusion on all six sides of the container; and the Marine Asset Tag Tracking System (MATTS), to track containers. The ACSD and Hybrid Composite Container technologies have not yet completed laboratory testing, but the CSD and MATTS are proceeding to testing in an operational environment, which will determine if the technologies can operate in the global supply chain--the flow of goods from manufacturers to retailers. S&T's master plans for conducting operational environment testing, however, do not reflect all of the operational scenarios the Office of Policy Development and CBP are considering for implementation. According to DHS guidance, before S&T can provide performance standards to the Office of Policy Development and CBP, the technologies are to have been proven to work in their final form and under expected operational conditions. Until the container security technologies are tested and evaluated consistent with all of the operational scenarios DHS identified for potential implementation, S&T cannot provide reasonable assurance that the technologies will effectively function as the Office of Policy Development and CBP intend to implement them. If S&T determines that the container security technologies are mature enough to provide performance standards for these technologies to the Office of Policy Development and CBP, key steps and challenges remain before implementation can occur. These key steps involve (1) obtaining support from the trade industry and international partners, (2) developing a concept of operations (CONOPS) detailing how the technologies are to be deployed, and (3) certifying the technologies for use. The Office of Policy Development and CBP plan to take these steps if and when S&T provides performance standards. GAO recommends that DHS test and evaluate the container security technologies consistent with all the operational scenarios DHS identified for potential implementation. DHS concurred with our recommendation.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that the container security technologies being developed will function in their intended operational environments, the Secretary of Homeland Security should instruct the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Policy, the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Under Secretary of the Science and Technology Directorate, to test and evaluate the container security technologies consistent with all of the operational scenarios DHS identified for potential implementation, before S&T provides performance standards to the Office of Policy Development and CBP.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We reported in September 2010, that the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) was testing four container security technologies (CSTs) for implementation on cargo containers by DHS's Office of Policy Development and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). We found, though, that DHS S&T's plans for conducting operational testing of these CSTs did not reflect all the operational scenarios being considered by the end users. Specifically, DHS S&T was testing the CSTs in the maritime environment on cargo containers onboard vessels, but three of DHS's possible operational scenarios included using the CSTs on containers traveling overland by truck. We recommended that DHS S&T test and evaluate the CSTs consistent with all the operational scenarios DHS identified for potential implementation. In response, in October 2011, DHS S&T and CBP reported that they had developed a variant of one of the four technologies we reviewed, referred to as Electronic Chain of Custody (ECoC)device, to meet CBP's current security needs. In June 2012, DHS S&T and CBP began testing ECoC on containers traveling by truck and rail into the United States, and as of April 2013, completed nearly 1500 test runs. As a result of these efforts, DHS S&T will be able to demonstrate whether ECoC will be suitable for use in those intended operational environments.

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