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Reliable Data Needed to Better Monitor C-TPAT Benefits and Validations, GAO Says

Friday, February 10, 2017
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

A recent Government Accountability Office report finds that a lack of reliable data has challenged U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s ability to effectively manage the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. CBP responded that it is taking steps to address the shortcomings identified, including developing a new reporting tool.

C-TPAT is a voluntary program in which CBP staff validate that members’ supply chain security practices meet minimum security criteria, in return for which members are eligible to receive benefits such reduced exam rates and shipment processing times. However, GAO finds that certain aspects of this program have been adversely affected by problems with the C-TPAT Portal 2.0 data system that began in August 2015.

One challenge has been a series of problems that have impaired the ability of CBP staff to identify and complete required C-TPAT member certification procedures and security profile reviews in a timely and efficient manner. For example, CBP has identified instances when the Portal 2.0 system incorrectly altered C-TPAT members’ certification or security profile dates, requiring manual verification of member data. While C-TPAT field offices have implemented procedures for ensuring that validations are identified and completed, these procedures are varied because CBP headquarters has not developed standardized guidance.

In response to a GAO recommendation that it develop such guidance, CBP noted that its C-TPAT program manager has selected a methodology that will include uniform monthly reporting from field offices and anticipates that these efforts will be put into effect by May. CBP is also continuing to work on identifying and addressing potential root causes of the Portal 2.0 problems.

Another issue is that because the data contained in its Dashboard data reporting tool cannot be relied upon, CBP is unable to determine the extent to which C-TPAT members are receiving the benefits the agency has publicized. For example, GAO’s own analyses of this data show that C-TPAT members’ shipments did not consistently experience lower exam and hold rates and processing times compared to non-members’ shipments, in contrast to CBP’s assertions to members and to Congress.

After determining that there appear to be errors in the data or formulas used to compute exam and hold rates and other actions uploaded into the Dashboard, CBP said it has decided to terminate the Dashboard and instead create a new benefit measuring tool by the end of June. CBP officials also said this effort will take precedence over trying to quantify and track other C-TPAT benefits that are more qualitative in nature.

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