Customs Service:

Information on the Design of the Self-Inspection Program

GGD-00-151: Published: Jun 23, 2000. Publicly Released: Jul 5, 2000.

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Laurie E. Ekstrand
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the design and implementation of the Customs Service's Self-Inspection Program (SIP), focusing on: (1) SIP's principal features; (2) the basis for Customs' design for SIP; (3) how SIP differs from Customs' previous management inspection program; and (4) SIP design issues identified by Customs to date and what Customs is doing to respond to them.

GAO noted that: (1) Customs' SIP provides a mechanism for management oversight of programs and processes that is intended to build accountability and foster integrity throughout the Customs Service; (2) under SIP, all Customs supervisors and managers are responsible for conducting a self-inspection every 6 months of the activities they oversee, using uniform self-inspection worksheets that are designed to evaluate financial vulnerability and corruption, mission performance and resource utilization, and internal/external relationships; (3) in designing SIP, Customs reviewed literature on program design and contacted several organizations to learn about their programs; (4) from this research, specific features were selected: (a) ownership of the program at all levels; (b) scope that covers operational and administrative areas; (c) use of an independent body to validate self-assessments; (d) use of uniform worksheets that contain questions about essential control points for managers; (e) funneling of results up the chain of command; and (f) performance of self-inspections according to a set schedule; (5) under Customs' previous management inspection program, Management Inspections Division (MID) personnel were to perform a review of each administrative and operational area of an activity about once every 5 years; (6) these reviews took MID about 2 to 3 weeks to complete at each location; (7) under SIP, all supervisors and managers are to inspect, assess, and monitor their own activities every 6 months; (8) MID's independent reviews are to be less comprehensive than those performed formerly and are expected to take about 5 days; (9) based on the first SIP cycle, a major program design problem consisted of confusing worksheet questions and directions; (10) to address the problem, Customs revised the worksheets to include: (a) specific directions about who should complete them; (b) detailed sampling methodology and instructions; (c) citations to references for most questions; and (d) reworded questions designed to be more specific and less confusing; (11) two other program design issues have emerged: (a) the lack of an automated system to analyze SIP results, which makes it difficult to identify national trends or to track whether corrective actions have been taken; and (b) the degree of discretion allowed for offices to perform their self-inspections; and (12) the Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Field Operations decided to complete half the self-inspection worksheets every 6 months so that each worksheet will be completed on a yearly basis.

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