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Highlights

Seaports are a critical vulnerability in the nation's defense against terrorism. They are potential entry points for bombs or other devices smuggled into cargo ships and ports' often-sprawling nature presents many potential targets for attack. To assess the response procedures that would be implemented in an attack or security incident, officials conduct port-specific exercises. Many federal, state, and local agencies may potentially be involved. The Coast Guard has primary responsibility for coordinating these exercises and analyzing the results. GAO examined (1) the emerging framework for coordinating entities involved in security responses, (2) legal and operational issues emerging from exercises conducted to date, and (3) Coast Guard management of reports analyzing exercises. GAO reviewed reports on 82 exercises from fiscal year 2004 and observed 4 exercises as they were being conducted.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Coast Guard To help ensure that reports on terrorism-related exercises are submitted in a timely manner that complies with all Coast Guard requirements, the Commandant of the Coast Guard should review the Coast Guard's actions for ensuring timeliness and determine if further actions are needed.
Closed - Implemented
In January 2005, we reported that the Coast Guard had conducted port-based terrorism exercises to assess coordination and response procedures that would be implemented in the event of a terrorist attack. After these exercises are conducted, Coast Guard policy requires an "after action" report describing the exercise results and highlighting the lessons learned. However, we found that the Coast Guard was not meeting existing requirements for after action reports, which include submitting these reports within 60 days and assessing how well each objective had been met. Subsequently, to address the issue of timeliness, the Coast Guard reduced the timeframe allowed for submitting an after-action report. All reports are now required to be reviewed, validated, and entered into the applicable database within 21 days from the end of an exercise or operation-reduced from the previous 60 days. In addition, a recent GAO analysis of 26 After Action Reports for calendar year 2006 showed an improvement in the quality of the After Action Reports; each listed specific exercise objectives and lessons learned from the exercise. As a result of this improvement in meeting requirements for after action reports, the Coast Guard is better able to identify and correct barriers to a successful response to a terrorist threat.

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