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Highlights

Sharing information with nonfederal officials is an important tool in federal efforts to secure the nation's ports against a potential terrorist attack. The Coast Guard has lead responsibility in coordinating maritime information sharing efforts. The Coast Guard has established area maritime security committees--forums that involve federal and nonfederal officials who identify and address risks in a port. The Coast Guard and other agencies have sought to further enhance information sharing and port security operations by establishing interagency operational centers--command centers that tie together the efforts of federal and nonfederal participants. GAO was asked to review the efforts to see what impact the committees and interagency operational centers have had on improving information sharing and to identify any barriers that have hindered information sharing.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Coast Guard 1. To help ensure that nonfederal officials receive needed security clearances as quickly as possible, both now and in the future, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to develop formal procedures so that local and headquarters officials use the Coast Guard's internal databases of state, local, and industry security clearances for area maritime committee members as a management tool to monitor who has submitted applications for a security clearance and to take appropriate action when application trends point to possible problems. For example, updating the database on a routine basis could identify port areas where progress is slow and indicate that follow-up with local field office officials may be needed.
Closed - Implemented
In April 2005, we reported most committee members had been slow in submitting their applications for a security clearance. In fact, as of February 2005 only 28 of 359 officials the Coast Guard identified who should receive a clearance had submitted the application forms. As a result, the information they possess may be incomplete and may limit their ability to deter, prevent, and respond to a potential terrorist attack. We recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to develop procedures to monitor who has submitted applications for a security clearance and to take appropriate action when application trends point to possible problems. Since then, the Coast Guard distributed two memos to field office officials clarifying their role granting security clearances to AMSC members; Coast Guard's Office of Port and Facility Activities developed a database to track receipt of clearances; and the same office completed an audit that cleared up discrepancies in the master list of committee members eligible to apply for a security clearance, and plans to do so annually.
United States Coast Guard 2. To help ensure that nonfederal officials receive needed security clearances as quickly as possible, both now and in the future, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to raise the awareness of state, local, and industry officials about the process of applying for security clearances. This effort could involve using brochures, Web sites, or other information that the FBI has used in its program for educating state and local officials about the security clearance process.
Closed - Implemented
In April 2005, we reported most committee members had been slow in submitting their applications for a security clearance. In fact, as of February 2005 only 28 of 359 officials the Coast Guard identified who should receive a clearance had submitted the application forms. As a result, the information they possess may be incomplete and may limit their ability to deter, prevent, and respond to a potential terrorist attack. We recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to raise the awareness of state, local, and industry officials about the process of applying for security clearances. Since then, the Coast Guard has developed and distributed an informational brochure outlining the security clearance process; and committees have been briefed on the program. Coast Guard officials reported that 212 AMSC members have received a security clearance to date.

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