Customs Service:

Process for Estimating and Allocating Inspectional Personnel

GGD-98-107: Published: Apr 30, 1998. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed selected aspects of the Custom Service's drug enforcement operations, focusing on: (1) how Customs assesses its needs for inspectional personnel and allocates such resources to commercial cargo ports of entry; (2) whether Customs received all the additional inspectional personnel its assessments indicated it needed and, if not, why it did not receive them; and (3) whether there were any known implications of Customs' not receiving all of the personnel estimated to be needed and the impact of the additional personnel that were appropriated on Customs' drug enforcement operations.

GAO noted that: (1) Customs does not have an agencywide process for annually determining its need for inspectional personnel--such as inspectors and canine enforcement officers--for all of its cargo operations and for allocating these personnel to commercial ports of entry nationwide; (2) while Customs has moved in this direction by conducting three inspectional assessments, these assessments: (a) focused exclusively on the need for additional personnel to implement Operation Hard Line and similar initiatives; (b) were limited to land ports along the southwest border and certain sea and air ports considered to be at risk from drug smuggling; (c) were conducted each year using generally different assessment factors; and (d) were conducted with varying degrees of involvement by Customs headquarters and field units; (3) Customs conducted the three assessments in preparation for its fiscal year (FY) 1997, 1998, and 1999 budget request submissions; (4) for FY 1998 and FY 1999, Customs officials stated that they used factors such as the number and location of drug seizures and the perceived threat of drug smuggling, including the use of rail cars to smuggle drugs; (5) focusing on only a single aspect of its operations; not consistently including the key field components in the personnel decisionmaking process; and using different assessment and allocation factors from year to year could prevent Customs from accurately estimating the need for inspectional personnel and then allocating them to ports; (6) the President's budgets did not request all of the additional inspectional personnel Customs' assessments indicated were needed; (7) the President's FY 1997 budget ultimately requested 657 additional inspection and other personnel for Customs; (8) Customs and Department of the Treasury officials cited internal and external budget constraints, drug enforcement policy considerations, and legislative requirements as the primary factors affecting the number of additional personnel that Customs could ultimately request and the manner in which it could allocate or reallocate certain personnel; (9) further, for FY 1998, the Office of National Drug Control Policy directed Customs to reallocate some of the additional 119 inspectors it requested and was appropriated funds for southwest border ports in accordance with the priorities in the National Drug Control Strategy; and (10) finally, Customs could not move certain existing positions to the southwest border because Congress had directed Customs to use them for specific purposes at specific ports.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In April 2000, GAO testified that more verification needed to be performed on some questionable Resource Allocation Model input data, and GAO questioned the model's lack of sophistication in being able to determine variations in a number of port-specific processes. Customs had taken some action to verify the data, but had not provided GAO with any documentation concerning verification of port-specific input data or modifications to improve the sophistication of the model itself. Without actual data to analyze, GAO was unable to agree with Customs that actions taken were adequate to close the recommendation. GAO is, however, closing this recommendation as not implemented because, as of March 2003, Customs was merged into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). With an entirely new DHS structure and a melding of border security resources including those from legacy Customs and INS, DHS will need to develop entirely new workforce planning processes and strategies, which obviates the need for continuing development on the Customs Resources Allocation Model.

    Recommendation: As a sound strategic planning practice, and taking into account budget and other constraints, the Commissioner of Customs should establish a systematic process to ensure, to the extent possible, that Customs' inspectional personnel are properly aligned with its goals, objectives, and strategies, including those for drug enforcement. Such a process should include conducting annual assessments to determine the appropriate staffing levels for its operational activities related to processing cargo at commercial ports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection


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