Maritime Security:

Substantial Work Remains to Translate New Planning Requirements into Effective Port Security

GAO-04-838: Published: Jun 30, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 2004.

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The Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, as implemented by the Coast Guard, calls for owners and operators of about 3,150 port facilities (such as shipping terminals or factories with hazardous materials) and about 9,200 vessels (such as cargo ships, ferries, and tugs and barges) to develop and implement security plans by July 1, 2004. The Coast Guard intends to conduct on-site compliance inspections of all facilities by January 1, 2005, and all vessels by July 1, 2005, to ensure plans are adequately implemented. The Coast Guard estimated the act's security improvements would cost $7.3 billion over 10 years--most of it borne by facility and vessel owners and operators. GAO was asked to assess (1) the progress towards developing, reviewing, and approving plans by July 1, 2004, (2) the Coast Guard's monitoring and oversight strategy for ensuring that plans are implemented, and (3) the accuracy of the Coast Guard's cost estimate.

Owners and operators have made progress in developing security plans for their port facilities and vessels. However, the extent to which the Coast Guard will have reviewed and approved the approximately 12,300 individual plans by July 1, 2004, varies considerably. About 5,900 plans were being developed under an option allowing owners and operators to self-certify that they would develop and implement plans by July 1, using industry-developed, Coast Guard-approved standards and templates. These individual plans will not be reviewed before July 1 unless owners or operators choose to submit them for review. The remaining 6,400 plans went through a review process established by the Coast Guard. Every plan required revisions, some of which were significant. As of June 2004--1 month before the deadline for implementation--more than half of the 6,400 plans were still in process. The Coast Guard took steps to speed up the process and to allow facilities and vessels to continue operating with less than full plan approval after July 1, as long as the Coast Guard was satisfied with their progress. The Coast Guard's strategy for monitoring and overseeing security plan implementation will face numerous challenges. Whether the Coast Guard will be able to conduct timely on-site compliance inspections of all facilities and vessels is uncertain because questions remain about whether the Coast Guard will have enough inspectors; a training program sufficient to overcome major differences in experience levels; and adequate guidance to help inspectors conduct thorough, consistent reviews. Another challenge is to ensure inspections reflect assessments of the normal course of business at facilities and aboard vessels. The accuracy of the Coast Guard's $7.3 billion estimate for implementing security improvements is likewise uncertain. The estimate, while a goodfaith effort on the Coast Guard's part, is based on limited data and on assumptions that are subject to error. The estimate should be viewed more as a rough indicator than a precise measure of costs.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2004, we reviewed and reported on the actions taken by the Coast Guard to oversee the development and implementation of security plans as required by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 for maritime facilities and certain vessels operating in U.S. ports. We reported, among other things, that while facility owners and operators had made progress in developing their security plans, the Coast Guard's strategy for ensuring that facility and vessel owners and operators continue to implement their plans faced challenges. Among these challenges was the need to ensure there are sufficient numbers of well-trained inspectors available with adequate guidance to conduct thorough, consistent reviews of facilities and vessels. We reported that the Coast Guard was in an initial 6-month "surge" period during which it had to review security plans for more than 3,000 facilities and over 9,000 vessels. We recommended that after this initial period, the Coast Guard use the experience to evaluate its initial compliance strategy and take steps to strength the compliance process for the long term. Although the Coast Guard agreed with our recommendation, a subsequent review of the Coast Guard's inspection efforts (GAO-08-12) found that it has not conducted such an evaluation, and had no plans to do so.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that Maritime Transportation Security Act requirements are being implemented effectively, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to conduct a formal evaluation of compliance inspection efforts taken during the initial 6-month surge period, including the adequacy of security inspection staffing, training, and guidance, and use this evaluation as a means to strengthen the compliance process for the longer term. As part of this strategy, the Coast Guard should clearly define the minimum qualifications for inspectors and link these qualifications to a certification process. The Coast Guard should also consider including unscheduled and unannounced inspections and covert testing as part of its inspection strategy to provide better assurance that the security environment at the nation's seaports meets the nation's expectations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Coast Guard


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