Terrorists and criminals can target the U.S. supply chain through security vulnerabilities in foreign ports. The Coast Guard's International Port Security Program aims to assess and strengthen the security of these ports.
We reviewed the program, which resumed full operations in May 2021 after being impacted by the pandemic. We found that the Coast Guard could:
More consistently assess security in countries that don't allow port visits
Share assessment information with other agencies working on supply chain security
Coordinate with the State Department on strengthening foreign port security
Our recommendations are to address these issues.
What GAO Found
Under its International Port Security Program, the Coast Guard has assessed the security of foreign maritime ports. Since 2014, the Coast Guard generally met its triennial foreign port security assessment requirement before the COVID-19 pandemic led it to suspend its country assessment visits during fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The program resumed its visits in May 2021.
Coast Guard Foreign Port Security Assessments, Fiscal Years 2014 through 2022
The Coast Guard has faced a longstanding challenge in accessing some countries' ports to conduct assessments. In recent years, the service began using alternative approaches—such as using Coast Guard intelligence—to make determinations for some countries it has been unable to visit. However, the program has not consistently done so. By documenting procedures for using alternative approaches, the Coast Guard could better ensure that personnel consistently implement this practice.
The program documents the results of its foreign port assessments in various reports. However, as of September 2022, it had not disseminated its most comprehensive report (known as its annual report) to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other federal agencies that may have a vested interest in receiving it. For example, it had not shared them with CBP, which is required to assess the information in its supply chain security efforts. By sharing its annual reports with CBP and other federal agencies, the Coast Guard could better support its "whole of government” approach for securing the U.S. supply chain.
Like the Coast Guard, the State Department provides capacity building to help its maritime trading partners strengthen their port security. However, the two agencies have not regularly coordinated planning and implementation in these efforts. By establishing a process for doing so, they can better ensure that they are complementing, rather than potentially overlapping, their efforts.
Why GAO Did This Study
The U.S. Coast Guard is a multi-mission maritime military service within the Department of Homeland Security responsible for securing the U.S. maritime transportation system.
The William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 includes a provision for GAO to review the Coast Guard's International Port Security Program. This report addresses, among other things, the extent the Coast Guard: (1) assessed foreign port security from fiscal years 2014 through 2022, and (2) shared its foreign port assessments and coordinated capacity building efforts with relevant federal stakeholders.
GAO reviewed relevant law and federal guidance, analyzed Coast Guard and State Department documentation and data, and interviewed cognizant officials from these agencies and CBP.
GAO is making six recommendations, including that the Coast Guard document its procedures for using alternative approaches to make foreign port security assessment determinations, share its annual assessment reports with CBP and other federal agencies it identifies as having a vested interest, and establish a process with the State Department for coordinating foreign port security capacity building.
The Department of Homeland Security and State Department concurred with the recommendations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|United States Coast Guard||The Commandant of the Coast Guard should ensure the International Port Security Program documents procedures describing when and how it should use alternative approaches to issue a foreign port security assessment determination. (Recommendation 1)||
|United States Coast Guard||The Commandant of the Coast Guard should ensure the service disseminates the International Port Security Program's annual foreign port assessment reports to CBP. (Recommendation 2)||
Closed – Implemented
|United States Coast Guard||The Commandant of the Coast Guard should ensure the service determines which federal agencies have a vested interest in receiving the International Port Security Program's annual foreign port security assessment reports and disseminate its reports to them. (Recommendation 3)||
Closed – Implemented
|United States Coast Guard||The Commandant of the Coast Guard should ensure the International Port Security Program establishes a process with cognizant Department of State offices to coordinate planning on foreign maritime port security capacity building. (Recommendation 4)||
|Department of State||The Secretary of State should ensure its cognizant offices establish a process to coordinate planning with each other and with the Coast Guard International Port Security Program to implement maritime port security related capacity building. (Recommendation 5)||
|United States Coast Guard||The Commandant of the Coast Guard should ensure the International Port Security Program incorporates performance measures that fully address the program's two key objectives of meeting its triennial assessment mandate and assessing risk to maritime security by assessing security at all visited ports. (Recommendation 6)||