Aviation Safety: Undeclared Air Shipments of Dangerous Goods and DOT's Enforcement Approach

GAO-03-22 Published: Jan 10, 2003. Publicly Released: Jan 15, 2003.
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When shipments of dangerous goods (hazardous chemical substances that could endanger public safety or the environment, such as flammable liquids or radioactive materials) are not properly packaged and labeled for air transport, they can pose significant threats because there is little room for error when something goes wrong in flight. To better understand the risks posed by improper ("undeclared") air shipments, we assessed what is known about their nature and frequency, what key mechanisms are in place to prevent their occurrence, and what the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Postal Service do to enforce federal regulations for shipping dangerous goods by air.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation In order to strengthen DOT's enforcement of dangerous goods regulations,the Secretary of Transportation should determine whether the unique characteristics of air transport warrant the development of a legislative proposal that would enhance DOT's authority to inspect packages shipped by air.
Closed – Implemented
Recommendation was not in either DOT's last authorization or current authorization.
Department of Transportation Depending on the results of his determination, the Secretary should direct the FAA Administrator to develop a legislative proposal that would require shippers to consent to the opening for inspection of packages shipped by air. Such a proposal would not only enhance FAA's inspection authority but would also enable FAA to obtain statistically valid, generalizable data on the nature and frequency of undeclared air shipments of dangerous goods.
Closed – Not Implemented
DOT has introduced legislation that directs the Comptroller General to study and report to Congress on methods of determining the amount of undeclared shipments of hazardous materials entering the United States.
Department of Transportation Finally, the Secretary should direct the Administrator to ensure that FAA better communicate and enforce its requirement to document the justification for any substantial changes to an initially proposed penalty before issuing a final order assessing a penalty.
Closed – Implemented
FAA issued a memorandum to its regional staff that emphasized the importance of documenting in the case file any chnages in a proposed sanction and the reason for these changes. In addition, the memo requested that staffs conduct periodic checks to ensure that this is being satisfactorily accomplished.

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