U.S. Customs Service:

Enforcement Oversight Issues

T-GGD-99-99: Published: May 18, 1999. Publicly Released: May 18, 1999.

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Norman J. Rabkin
(202) 512-3610


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(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed efforts by the Customs Service to interdict drugs, allocate inspectional personnel, and develop performance measures, including information on Customs' action plan for resolving management problems.

GAO noted that: (1) Customs initiated and encouraged its ports to use several programs to identify and separate low-risk shipments from those with apparently higher smuggling risk; (2) GAO identified internal control weaknesses in one or more of the processes used to screen Line Release program applicants for entry into the program; (3) the Three Tier Targeting program was used at the Southwest border ports where officials say they lost confidence in the program's ability to distinguish high- from low-risk shipments; (4) Customs is evaluating the Automated Targeting System for expansion to other land-border cargo ports; (5) Customs has been using traditional law enforcement measures to evaluate the Aviation program; (6) these measures, however, are used to track activity, not measure results or effectiveness; (7) Customs has discontinued the use of the threat index as an indicator of its effectiveness in detecting illegal air traffic, as well as some other performance measures, because Customs determined that they were not good measures of results and effectiveness; (8) Customs, Department of Defense (DOD), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and Ancore Corporation recently began planning to field test the pulsed fast neutron analysis (PFNA) inspection system; (9) while Customs, DOD, and FAA officials acknowledge that laboratory testing has proven the technical feasibility of PFNA, they told GAO that the Ancore inspection system would not meet their operational requirements; (10) agency officials said that a PFNA system not only is too expensive, but also is too large for operational use in most ports of entry or other sites; (11) Customs officials were not aware of any formal agencywide efforts prior to 1995 to determine the need for additional cargo or passenger inspectional personnel for its 301 ports; (12) in preparation for its fiscal year 1997 budget request, Customs conducted a formal needs assessment; (13) GAO concluded that the assessments had limitations that could prevent Customs from accurately estimating the need for inspectional personnel and then allocating them to ports; (14) GAO found that Customs' strategic plan contained weaknesses that could affect the reliability of Customs' performance data; (15) Customs' first action plan was issued in February 1999 and has since been updated three times; (16) it is Customs' intention to implement all action items included in the plan by 2000; and (17) use of this kind of management tool can be very helpful in communicating problems and proposed solutions to executives, managers, and the Customs Service workforce.