Drug Control:

Cooperation with Many Major Drug Transit Countries Has Improved, but Better Performance Reporting and Sustainability Plans Are Needed

GAO-08-784: Published: Jul 15, 2008. Publicly Released: Aug 14, 2008.

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Each year, criminal organizations transport hundreds of tons of illegal drugs from South America to the United States through a 6 million square mile "transit zone" including Central America, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Since fiscal year 2003, the United States has provided over $950 million to support counternarcotics efforts in transit zone countries, which historically lacked the capacity to interdict drugs. GAO was asked to examine (1) how the United States has assisted transit zone countries in disrupting drug trafficking and (2) what factors have impeded these efforts. GAO analyzed relevant data, met with U.S. and foreign officials, and visited selected countries.

U.S. government assistance has improved international counternarcotics cooperation with the eight major drug transit countries GAO reviewed, except Venezuela. First, assistance programs have helped partner nations gather, process, and share information and intelligence leading to arrests and drug seizures. Second, they have enabled these nations to participate in counternarcotics operations--both at sea and on land--by providing assets (such as interceptor boats and vehicles), logistical support, and training for police units. Third, U.S. assistance has helped strengthen the capacity of prosecutors to work more effectively on drug-related cases. Assessing the impact of such a wide variety of programs is difficult because some are indirectly related to drug interdiction, and because results reporting has been limited and inconsistent. Despite gains in international cooperation, several factors, including resource limitations and lack of political will, have impeded U.S. progress in helping governments become full and self-sustaining partners in the counternarcotics effort--a goal of U.S. assistance. These countries have limited resources to devote to this effort, and many initiatives are dependent on U.S. support. Programs to build maritime interdiction capacity have been particularly affected, as partner nations lack fuel and other resources needed to operate and maintain U.S.-provided boats. Limited political support, particularly in Venezuela, and corruption have also hindered U.S. counternarcotics efforts. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has implemented a Container Security Initiative (CSI) that targets and scans containers for weapons of mass destruction and terrorist contraband. But CSI has not routinely been used for illicit drug detection, despite its applicability for this purpose.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) contains annual summaries of how major drug-source and transit countries are implementing their drug control commitments under international law as well as the impact of U.S. assistance efforts to partner countries. According to State/INL, since this report was issued, the INCSRs have devoted increased attention to the impact of three major security partnerships targeting the most frequented drug-transit routes into the United States?the Merida Initiative, the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). Moreover, State/INL said that INL will continue to focus on impact analysis and plans to request for the 2013 INCSR additional analysis on the impact of U.S. assistance from U.S. missions contributing towards the report. State also recently consulted with ONDCP to discuss coordination on counternarcotics performance reporting. This included discussions on performance reporting descriptions, timelines, reporting formats and due dates.

    Recommendation: To link U.S.-funded initiatives in transit zone countries to the priority of disrupting illicit drug markets and the goal of assisting nations to become full and self-sustaining partners in the international counternarcotics effort, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Administrator of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), should report the results of U.S.-funded counternarcotics initiatives more comprehensively and consistently for each country in the annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to an official in State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) who had authority to speak about this issue, this recommendation was difficult for State to implement given the bilateral nature of State's assistance to transit zone countries. This bilateral relationship, according to this official, prevents State from making plans or decisions regarding partner nations' funding priorities. This official stated it was the responsibility of transit zone partner countries to provide long-term maintenance and operations funding for these assets. This official added that sometimes these countries will decide to provide funding for operations and maintenance of assets throughout their useful life, and that State tries to encourage them to do so. But this official noted the decision to conduct this sort of planning and funding was ultimately the partner nations' responsibility, and that State cannot force these countries to do it. Therefore, she noted, the recommendation has an inherent limitation, as State's bilateral relations with these countries prevent State from developing plans forcing them to provide or plan to provide such operations and maintenance funding.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State, in consultation with the Director of ONDCP, the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security, and the Attorney General, should (1) develop a plan to ensure that partner nations in the transit zone can effectively operate and maintain all counternarcotics assets that the United States has provided, including boats and other vehicles and equipment, for their remaining useful life and report this plan to the Congress for the fiscal year 2010 appropriations cycle and (2) ensure that, before providing a counternarcotics asset to a partner nation, agencies determine the total operations and maintenance cost over its useful life and, with the recipient nation, develop a plan for funding this cost.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not concur with our recommendation to study the feasibility of expanding the Container Security Initiative (CSI) program. According to DHS, expanding CSI to include narcotics interdiction would unnecessarily broaden the program's strategic goals and is inconsistent with its mandate to secure the international supply chain from high-risk shipments with a potential risk of terrorism and acts of terrorism.

    Recommendation: To help maximize cargo container security assistance, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, should determine the feasibility of expanding the Container Security Initiative to include routine targeting and scanning of containers for illicit drugs in major drug transit countries in the transit zone, and report the results to the Congress. Factors to be assessed should include the cost, workload and staffing ramifications, the potential benefits to international counternarcotics law enforcement efforts, the political support of CSI participating countries, statutory authority, and any risks associated with such an expansion.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security


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