U.S. Customs Service:

Limitations in Collecting Harbor Maintenance Fees

GGD-92-25: Published: Dec 23, 1991. Publicly Released: Jan 24, 1992.

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Norman J. Rabkin
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Customs Service's efforts to collect the harbor maintenance fee (HMF) for use of harbors and ports.

GAO found that: (1) Customs primarily uses fee collections to pay the Army Corps of Engineers' port and harbor improvement and maintenance costs; (2) since the inception of its collection operation in 1987, Customs has reported HMF collections of about $916 million, with imports accounting for about 67 percent; (3) Customs has incorporated the HMF collection on imports into its existing import process, which also collects import duties and other fees; (4) in fiscal year 1991, importers paid Customs over $17 billion in import duties and fees, including over $258 million in HMF; (5) since exporters, domestic shippers, foreign trade zone users, and passenger vessel operators are not subject to comparable duties and fees that importers pay, except HMF, Customs cannot collect HMF for those users with other collections; (6) although Customs' controls primarily consisted of matching payment data with shipment data and then auditing nonpaying parties, limited HMF collection resources impeded its ability to completely or accurately perform that function; (7) Customs and the Corps estimated that losses resulting from exporters' and domestic shippers' nonpayment of HMF could total about $23 million annually; (8) Customs took such actions to increase collections as identifying nonpaying exporters and increasing its workforce; and (9) although current legislation restricts Customs from using HMF revenue to pay for activities associated with fee collections, legislation has been introduced to change the law to provide money from HMF revenues to assist in paying fee collection costs.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Customs Modernization Act (P.L. 103-182) authorizes Customs, the Corps, and Census to seek reimbursement for costs associated with collecting the HMF. The act does not require a justification of costs before expenses are reimbursed. It does not appear that agencies will be required to submit justification before expenses are reimbursed.

    Matter: To permit Customs, the Corps, and Census to be reimbursed for costs directly associated with collecting HMF, Congress should amend the Water Resources and Development Act, as proposed in H.R. 2589, with one change. Congress should change H.R. 2589 to require a justification of costs before expenses are reimbursed.


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