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Economic Sanctions: Agencies Face Competing Priorities in Enforcing the U.S. Embargo on Cuba

GAO-08-80 Published: Nov 30, 2007. Publicly Released: Dec 18, 2007.
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The 48-year U.S. embargo on Cuba aims to deny resources to the Castro regime by prohibiting most trade, travel, and financial transactions with Cuba. The departments of Commerce, Homeland Security (DHS), Justice, and the Treasury are responsible for enforcing the embargo as well as protecting homeland and national security. Since 2001, U.S. agencies have changed the embargo's rules in response to new laws and policies. GAO was asked to examine (1) the rule changes in 2001-2005 and their impact on U.S. exports, travel, cash transfers, and gifts to Cuba; (2) U.S. agencies' embargo-related activities and workloads; and (3) factors affecting the embargo's enforcement. GAO analyzed laws, regulations, and agency data, interviewed agency officials, and observed agency activities at Port Everglades and Miami International Airport, Florida.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security In light of the recognized weaknesses in CBP's inspections capacity at major ports of entry, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct CBP to re-evaluate whether the current level of resources focused on secondary inspections of passengers arriving from Cuba at the Miami airport effectively balances its responsibility for enforcing the Cuba embargo with its responsibilities for keeping terrorists, criminals, and inadmissible aliens out of the country.
Closed – Implemented
In its "60-day letter," DHS wrote that, as recommended in our report, the Miami Service Port/Miami International Airport management team had reevaluated the level of resources devoted to enforcing the US embargo on Cuba at the airport. DHS stated that the CBP reevaluation had been completed through a series of meetings with senior management at the field office, local port management, and local subject matter experts including airline and carrier personnel. DHS also identified some of the different factors CBP considered to determine resource needs, and stated that CBP had used a "risk-based approach" in assessing these factors. DHS reported that, using the stated factors and principles, CBP officials had determined that the agency had achieved an effective balance between the resources dedicated to enforcing the Cuba embargo laws and those dedicated to other missions, such as keeping terrorists, criminals, and inadmissible aliens out of the United States. Our assessment is that the DHS letter provides a reasonable description of the steps CBP took in its reevaluation of the resources employed at the Miami airport in support of the US embargo on Cuba.
Department of the Treasury In addition, in light of OFAC's responsibilities for administering more than 20 sanctions programs, including sanctions against countries engaged in terrorism, weapons proliferations, and narcotics trafficking, the Secretary of the Treasury should direct OFAC to assess its allocation of resources for investigating and penalizing violations of the Cuba embargo with respect to the numerous other sanctions programs it administers.
Closed – Not Implemented
Treasury expressed neither agreement nor disagreement with our draft recommendation that OFAC assess the consistency of its resource allocations related to Cuba embargo violations with the risk of these violations to U.S. security. Treasury stated that OFAC's resources for investigating and penalizing violations of the Cuba embargo and other sanctions programs are allocated according to the agency's priorities, legal obligations to enforce all sanctions laws fairly, and volume of work. Treasury reiterated that Cuba-related cases represent a smaller portion of OFAC's enforcement work and require fewer resources than the number of such cases suggests. Treasury did not respond to GAO's efforts in 2012 to obtain updated information about the Department's position on this recommendation.

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