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Highlights

One of the U.S. National Drug Control Strategy's priorities is to disrupt the illicit drug market. To this end, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security provide ships and aircraft to disrupt the flow of illicit drugs, primarily cocaine, shipped from South America through the Caribbean Sea and eastern Pacific Ocean--an area known as the transit zone. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) oversees the U.S. anti-drug strategy. The Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-South) directs most transit zone operations. We examined U.S. efforts to interdict maritime movements of cocaine. We analyzed the (1) changes in cocaine seizures and disruptions since calendar year 2000, (2) trends in interdiction assets provided since fiscal year 2000, (3) challenges to maintaining transit zone interdiction operations, and (4) performance measures the agencies use to assess their progress.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security The Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security should plan for the likely decline in the future availability of ships and aircraft for transit zone interdiction operations and, specifically, determine how they will compensate for the decline in P-3 maritime patrol aircraft availability.
Closed - Implemented
Over the past 4 years, the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has implemented a service life extension program for its P-3 maritime patrol assets, according to testimony by Major General Michael Kostelnik, Assistant Commissioner, Office of Air and Marine Operations at CBP. According to DHS, the entire CBP fleet of 16 P-3 aircraft was grounded for part of fiscal year 2006, due to stress cracks. Congress provided funding in fiscal year 2007 to DHS to, according to the Department, enable it to begin a long-term program to extend the life of the P-3s. The Office of the Inspector General for DHS has reported that the service life extension program will allow the P-3 fleet to play a significant role in the transit zone through 2027.
Department of Defense The Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security should plan for the likely decline in the future availability of ships and aircraft for transit zone interdiction operations and, specifically, determine how they will compensate for the decline in P-3 maritime patrol aircraft availability.
Closed - Implemented
Over the past 4 years, the Department of Defense has implemented a number of steps to react to the decline in the availability of ships and aircraft for transit zone interdiction operations. According to the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), the combatant command responsible for transit zone interdiction operations, DOD plans to use other forms of aerial surveillance, including the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) that is currently being developed, to improve detection capabilities as the number of available flight hours for the P-3 maritime patrol aircraft decreases. In addition, SOUTHCOM plans to increasingly rely on U.S.-supported partner nations for detection and monitoring efforts as DOD capabilities in this area diminish.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security should develop and coordinate, in conjunction with the Director of ONDCP, performance measures for transit zone interdiction operations that take advantage of available drug interdiction data (such as detections, seizures, and disruptions) to provide a basis for (1) assessing transit zone interdiction performance and (2) deciding how to deploy increasingly limited assets, such as the P-3 maritime patrol aircraft.
Closed - Implemented
In response to the GAO recommendation, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has developed and submitted to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) performance measures for its counternarcotics activities. The Coast Guard, a component of DHS, has developed and submitted to ONDCP performance measures on the cocaine removal rate. Customs and Border Protection, another DHS component, has submitted to ONDCP performance measures tracking the seizure rates of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. DHS provides surveillance aircraft, maritime vessels, and law enforcement assistance in the transit zone.
Department of Defense The Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security should develop and coordinate, in conjunction with the Director of ONDCP, performance measures for transit zone interdiction operations that take advantage of available drug interdiction data (such as detections, seizures, and disruptions) to provide a basis for (1) assessing transit zone interdiction performance and (2) deciding how to deploy increasingly limited assets, such as the P-3 maritime patrol aircraft.
Closed - Implemented
In response to the GAO recommendation, in May 2009 DOD submitted to ONDCP performance measures for its counternarcotics activities. Some of DOD's counternarcotics performance measures focus on transit zone interdiction operations and use drug interdiction data to assess DOD's performance in the transit zone. These include specific performance measures concerning the use of air and maritime assets in support of multi-agency counternarcotics detection and monitoring operations in the transit zone. Two performance measures detail the number of sorties and operational hours of the P-3 maritime patrol aircraft.
Office of National Drug Control Policy The Director of ONDCP should address each of the recommendations made by the National Research Council and report to the Congress what departments and agencies need to take action, what remains to be done, and when action is expected to be completed. In those instances where ONDCP reports that action is not necessary, it should document the reasons why.
Closed - Implemented
In November 2005, we reported that data used to help assess U.S. drug usage would remain problematic if the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and other cognizant agencies did not fully address the 30 recommendations issued by the National Research Council (NRC) in its 2001 report, "Informing America's Policy on Illegal Drugs." We recommended ONDCP address each NRC recommendation and report to Congress what departments and agencies need to take action, when action is expected to be completed, and if no action was taken, why (GAO-06-200, 11/15/05). In December 2006, ONDCP completed a spreadsheet we prepared by listing how, if at all, it addressed NRC's 30 recommendations, including the agencies involved and completion dates. In instances where ONDCP reported that action was not necessary, it stated the reasons why. We shared this information with congressional staff later that same month. According to the spreadsheet, ONDCP took action on half of NRC's recommendations and explained why it did not take action on the other half. For example, to address one recommendation, ONDCP established a research project to determine how illegal drug prices are calculated and who is among the labor supply of illegal drug dealers. To explain why it did not take action for another NRC recommendation, ONDCP cited ethical objections by the drug treatment research community.

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