State Department:

Problems in the Diplomatic Courier System

NSIAD-89-39: Published: Feb 6, 1989. Publicly Released: Feb 6, 1989.

Additional Materials:


Joseph E. Kelley
(202) 275-4128


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

GAO reviewed the Department of State's diplomatic courier pouch system to assess what problems the system experienced in its efforts to provide timely and secure delivery service.

GAO found that: (1) shipment of large, bulky items strained the capability of the pouch system; (2) the volume more than doubled over 5 years; (3) system breakdowns included inadequate or late transportation, trucks without communication capabilities, shortcomings in security escort efforts, improperly handled classified material, and large pouch loads; (4) State did not limit its use of nonprofessional couriers to emergencies and isolated cases, as its regulations required; (5) because it did not centrally control or monitor the use of nonprofessional couriers, State did not know how many nonprofessional couriers that the overseas diplomatic posts authorized; and (6) State did not perform routine spot inspections of ordinary pouched packages to ensure that drugs, liquor, and other prohibited materials did not enter the system.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 1, 1989, State transmitted a telegram to all diplomatic posts to address the proliferation on nonprofessional couriers. The telegram directs the posts to: (1) use the established courier route network; (2) establish controls to certify that use of nonprofessional couriers be limited to emergencies and isolated cases; and (3) list the rationale for each nonprofessional courier trip.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that professional couriers are used whenever possible, as required by regulations, and implement controls to ensure that the use of nonprofessional couriers is limited to emergencies and isolated cases.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State has implemented a periodic Pouch Content Control Program. Under this new program, State's Office of Communications, Pouch Control Office, will randomly open items intended for pouch transmission. This will be done in the presence of the originator and the Pouch Control Officer will report pouch violations to the Department. Both accompanied and unaccompanied pouches will be inspected.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should routinely perform periodic inspections of pouches to provide reasonable assurance that only appropriate material enters the courier system.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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