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Highlights

Preventing radioactive material from being smuggled into the United States is a key national security objective. To help address this threat, in October 2002, DHS began deploying radiation detection equipment at U.S. ports-of-entry. This report reviews recent progress DHS has made (1) deploying radiation detection equipment, (2) using radiation detection equipment, (3) improving the capabilities and testing of this equipment, and (4) increasing cooperation between DHS and other federal agencies in conducting radiation detection programs.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security Since DHS provides the Congress with information concerning the acquisition and deployment of portal monitors, and since DHS's procedures to obtain internal agreement on this information are lengthy and cumbersome--often resulting in delays--the Secretary of Homeland Security, working with the Director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) and the Commissioner of CBP, should review these approval procedures and take actions necessary to ensure that DHS submits information to the Congress early in the fiscal year.
Closed - Implemented
In commenting on a draft of this report, DHS officials agreed with the recommendations and committed to addressing them. In subsequent years DHS submitted budget information in a more timely manner and later reports on this issue did not reveal this to be an ongoing problem.
Department of Homeland Security In order to complete the radiation portal monitor deployment program, as planned, the Secretary of Homeland Security, working with the Director of DNDO, and in concert with CBP and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), should devise a plan to close the gap between the current deployment rate and the rate needed to complete deployments by September 2009.
Closed - Not Implemented
In commenting on a draft of this report, DHS officials agreed with the recommendations and committed to addressing them. The gap between the deployment date and the target completion date for deploying radiation portal monitors was not achieved. As shown in our June 30, 2010 testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (see Combating Nuclear Smuggling: DHS Has Made Some Progress but Not Yet Completed a Strategic Plan for Its Global Nuclear Detection Efforts or Closed Identified Gaps, GAO-10-883T), DHS has yet to deploy approximately one third (about 700) of radiation portal monitors called for in its deployment plan. Further, the revised Radiation Portal Monitor Program Project Execution Plan (RPMP PEP) issued in September 2006 -- 6 months after the report was issued, envisions deploying only about 2,000 radiation portal monitors by the 9/2009 date -- far short of the 3,034 mentioned as the September 2009 goal in the report.
Department of Homeland Security To ensure that DHS's substantial investment in radiation detection technology yields the greatest possible level of detection capability at the lowest possible cost, the Secretary of Homeland Security, once the costs and capabilities of advanced technology portal monitors are well understood, and before any of the new equipment is purchased, should work with the Director of DNDO to analyze the benefits and costs of deploying advanced portal monitors. This analysis should focus on determining whether any additional detection capability provided by the advanced equipment is worth its additional cost. After completing this cost-benefit analysis, the Secretary of Homeland Security, working with the Director of DNDO, should revise its total program cost estimates to reflect current decisions.
Closed - Not Implemented
In commenting on a draft of this report, DHS officials agreed with the recommendations and committed to addressing them. As of May 25, 2010 this recommendation has not been implemented. In February 2010 DHS decided to consider ASPs for secondary inspection only, drastically reducing the potential procurement. As of our June 30, 2010 testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Combating Nuclear Smuggling: DHS Has Made Some Progress but Not Yet Completed a Strategic Plan for Its Global Nuclear Detection Efforts or Closed Identified Gaps (GAO-10-883T), DHS had not completed a cost-benefit analysis. During the course of our audit preparing for this testimony DHS officials would not commit to a date for completing the needed cost benefit analysis.
Department of Homeland Security To help speed seaport deployments and to help ensure that future rail deployments proceed on time, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in cooperation with the Commissioner of CBP, should develop procedures for effectively screening rail containers and develop new technologies to facilitate inspections.
Closed - Not Implemented
In commenting on a draft of this report, DHS officials agreed with the recommendations and committed to addressing them. As of our June 30, 2010 testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Combating Nuclear Smuggling: DHS Has Made Some Progress but Not Yet Completed a Strategic Plan for Its Global Nuclear Detection Efforts or Closed Identified Gaps (GAO-10-883T), DHS had made very little progress in developing the means to scan rail cargo. We found that there is very limited systematic scanning for radiation of the roughly 4,800 loaded railcars in approximately 1,200 trains entering the United States each day from Mexico and Canada at 31 rail ports of entry. What scanning does occur is usually conducted with long-deployed hand-held radiation isotope identification devices. DHS does not expect to deploy radiation portal monitors or develop rail CONOPS until 2014 at the earliest.
Department of Homeland Security To increase the chances that CBP officers find illicit radiological material, the Secretary of Homeland Security, working with the Commissioner of CBP, should consider modifying the agency's standard operating procedures for secondary inspections to include physically opening cargo containers during secondary inspections at all ports-of-entry when the external inspection does not conclusively identify the radiological material inside.
Closed - Implemented
In commenting on a draft of this report, DHS officials agreed with the recommendations and committed to addressing them. In conducting work on a subsequent, related engagement GAO found that CBP CONOPS now include the option of opening up and even unloading containers and scanning the contacts as necessary in order to conclusively identify the source of radiation. This policy was observed to be standard practice at ports of entry visited by the team in the spring of 2007.
Department of Homeland Security To further increase the chances that CBP officers identify illicit radiological material, the Secretary of Homeland Security, working with the Chairman of NRC, should develop a way for CBP border officers to determine whether radiological shipments have the necessary NRC licenses and to verify the authenticity of NRC licenses that accompany such shipments.
Closed - Implemented
In our March 2006 report on efforts to combat nuclear smuggling at U.S. borders (GAO-06-389), we recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security, working with the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), develop a way for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to determine whether radiological shipments have the necessary NRC licenses and to verify the authenticity of NRC licenses that accompany such shipments. Additionally, we successfully smuggled radiological material across the northern and southern U.S. borders with forged NRC licenses (GAO-06-583T). In response to our recommendation, DHS wrote on August 1, 2006, that for those shipments requiring an NRC license, CBP would work with NRC to implement policies and procedures whereby CBP officers can contact either CBP's Laboratory and Scientific Services (LSS) Technical reach back Center at the CBP National Targeting Center whenever they need assistance in verifying the authenticity of an NRC license. Furthermore, CBP field officers were to be provided with specific additional guidance on procedure to verify NRC licenses. In February 2007, we met with CBP and LSS officials and confirmed that such procedures are now in place.
Department of Homeland Security To ensure that CBP is receiving reliable cost and schedule data, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct PNNL to have its earned value management system validated so that it complies with guidance developed by the American National Standards Institute/ Electronic Industries Alliance. In addition, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct CBP and PNNL to conduct an Integrated Baseline Review to ensure its earned value management data is reliable for assessing risk and developing alternatives.
Closed - Not Implemented
In commenting on a draft of this report, DHS officials agreed with the recommendations and committed to addressing them. When asked to provide documentation that DHS had its earned value management system validated by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and that the system met the ANSI standard, DHS officials could not do so. Accordingly, we are closing the recommendation as not implemented.

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