U.S. Customs Service:

Budget Authorization Issues

T-GGD-99-79: Published: Apr 13, 1999. Publicly Released: Apr 13, 1999.

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Norman J. Rabkin
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Customs Service's efforts to interdict drugs, combat corruption, and comply with the Government Performance and Results Act. GAO also discussed the basis for the $163-million access fee to be charged to nongoverment organizations for the use of Customs' automation systems.

GAO noted that: (1) to balance the facilitation of trade through ports and the interdiction of illegal drugs being smuggled into the United States, Customs initiated and encouraged its ports to use several programs to identify and separate low-risk shipments from those with apparently higher smuggling risks; (2) the Line Release Program was designed to expedite cargo shipments that Customs determined to be repetitive, high volume, and low risk for narcotics smuggling; (3) in 1996, Customs implemented the Land Border Carrier Initiative Program, which required that the Line Release shipments across the Southwest border be transported by Customs-approved carriers and driven by Customs-approved drivers; (4) after the Carrier Initiative Program was implemented, the number of Southwest Border Line Release shipments dropped significantly; (5) the Three Tier Targeting Program--a method of targeting high-risk shipments for narcotics inspection--was used at the three Southwest border ports GAO visited; (6) according to officials at the three ports, the Three Tier program had two operational problems that contributed to their loss of confidence in the program's ability to distinguish high- from low-risk shipments; (7) Customs suspended this program until more reliable information is developed for classifying low-risk importations; (8) the Automated Targeting System is designed to assess shipment entry information for known smuggling indicators and thus enable inspectors to target high-risk shipments more efficiently; (9) since the establishment of the Customs Aviation Program in 1969, its basic mandate to use air assets to counter the drug smuggling threat has not changed; (10) until 1997, Customs also used an air threat index as an indicator of its effectiveness in detecting illegal air traffic; (11) Customs has discontinued use of this indicator, as well as selected other performance measures, because Customs determined that they were not good measures of results and effectiveness; (12) Customs plans to spend more than $1 billion over the next few years to modernize its systems environment for certain core missions, including facilitating international trade, enforcing laws governing the flow of goods across the borders, and assessing and collecting about $22 billion annually on imported merchandise; and (13) to pay for the development and implementation of new automated systems, the President's budget for fiscal year 2000 proposes a Customs automation system access fee to be charged to nongovernment organizations using the system, which should generate an estimated $163 million in revenue per year.

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