Coast Guard:

Program to Inspect Intermodal Containers Carrying Hazardous Materials Can Be Improved

RCED-94-139: Published: Apr 27, 1994. Publicly Released: Apr 27, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the U.S. Coast Guard's draft procedures for inspecting hazardous materials containers, focusing on: (1) the Coast Guard's inspection strategy; (2) Coast Guard inspectors' familiarity with hazardous materials transportation regulations; and (3) how often inspectors notify shippers of violations.

GAO found that: (1) although the Coast Guard is initiating its nationwide inspection program, it needs to address several problems in order to effectively regulate the expanding chemical transportation industry with its available inspection resources; (2) Coast Guard inspectors are not focusing their resources on inspecting high-risk containers and are uncertain about how to interpret some transportation regulations; (3) the Coast Guard is not notifying shippers of violations in their procedures for shipping hazardous materials; (4) although the Coast Guard and the Customs Service agreed that the Coast Guard would train Customs inspectors on hazardous materials transportation regulations, Customs inspectors are not identifying and referring possible violations to the Coast Guard; and (5) the Coast Guard is increasing its inspection work force, assigning container inspectors to its field offices, and forming a national strike force to provide training and expertise in container inspections.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department agreed with the recommendation and said that as a first step, it has requested detailed information concerning intermodal hazardous material incidents reported to the Research and Special Programs Administration. It developed national and regional targeting schemes in February 1995.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to develop a strategy to target Coast Guard inspections by: (1) selecting and inspecting a random sample of containers; (2) analyzing the results of these inspections to identify the characteristics of high-risk shipments; and (3) using those characteristics to select high-risk containers for inspection.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department agreed with the recommendation. It said that the Container Inspection Training and Assistance Team will work with Coast Guard headquarters officials to monitor the performance of inspections. In March 1994, it issued a comprehensive enforcement policy and created new inspection forms to standardize procedures and monitor consistency of enforcement.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to monitor the performance of its container inspectors to ensure that inspections are adequate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To ensure that all shippers are notified of violations, the Coast Guard developed a standard discrepancy notification form to notify shippers of violations. Also, its new container inspection policy guidance emphasizes this requirement. The Coast Guard also said it will monitor to ensure that notifications are sent in all instances when violations occur.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to require field officials to notify all shippers of violations identified by inspectors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department agreed with the recommendation. It said that its new inspection staff will enable the Coast Guard to work more closely with Customs. Also, it will train Customs inspectors during the next year on hazardous material regulations. Finally, its new container inspection policy guidance calls for increased coordination with Customs. All of the training was completed in 1994.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard, as part of the new inspection program, to work with the Customs Service to train its inspectors so they can assist the Coast Guard in its enforcement of hazardous materials container regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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