Cargo Imports:

Customs Needs To Better Assure Compliance With Trade Laws and Regulations

GGD-86-136: Published: Sep 8, 1986. Publicly Released: Oct 8, 1986.

Additional Materials:


Arnold P. Jones
(202) 512-7797


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Customs Service's cargo inspection process to determine whether the process ensured adequate enforcement of U.S. import laws.

GAO found that most of Customs' physical examinations of imported cargo were superficial and inadequate because the inspectors: (1) usually examined one or two packages selected from the most accessible locations in the shipment; (2) often allowed non-Customs personnel to select the merchandise to be examined; and (3) usually did not verify that the quantity in the shipment was equal to the amount the importers declared. The Department of the Treasury's amendment to Customs' regulations allowed Customs to use a selected inspection system in which it would examine only the shipments categorized as high-risk; however, the manner in which Customs performed the inspections did not provide reliable information for determining whether it should examine similar shipments. GAO believes that: (1) the lack of specific guidelines and the high volume of merchandise requiring inspection have reduced the quality of Customs' examinations; and (2) although Customs' inspectors should have some discretion in determining the thoroughness of examinations, guidelines are needed for determining the examination intensity based on the shipment's potential risk.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GAO questioned Customs allowing the intensity of the cargo examination to be determined by the inspector's judgment. This has not changed; however, Customs' Automated Commercial System (ACS) directs the inspector to the items based on risk and other data sorted in ACS. Because of ACS capabilities, the policies and procedures envisioned in the GAO report are no longer applicable.

    Recommendation: To assist Customs in ensuring that cargo entering this country is in compliance with import requirements, the Secretary of the Treasury should direct the Commissioner of Customs to develop specific policies and procedures for inspectors to use for determining the intensity of cargo examinations. Customs should base the degree of intensity on the risk of the shipment and the purpose of the examination.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 26, 2018

Sep 5, 2018

Jul 18, 2018

Jul 16, 2018

Jun 27, 2018

May 31, 2018

May 17, 2018

Apr 18, 2018

Apr 12, 2018

Looking for more? Browse all our products here