U.S. Customs and Border Protection should develop a monitoring system and take other steps to help ensure that imported radiological material, which is used for medical, industrial, and research purposes, is being properly licensed, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.

Possession of radiological material requires a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or one of the 37 states to which NRC has relinquished licensing authority. CBP monitors ports of entry to help ensure that only properly licensed shipments are permitted to enter the U.S. CBP also deploys technology at and between ports of entry that can detect the presence of radiological material hidden in cargo or vehicles.

However, the GAO states that CBP officials at U.S. airports have not verified the legitimacy of all licenses for imported radiological materials as required by agency policy; i.e., by calling experts in a centralized CBP office. Specifically, CBP officials at two of four airports GAO visited did not verify many licenses from Jan. 1, 2015, through Sept. 30, 2016, and headquarters officials were unaware of this non-compliance. Also during this time GAO found that, nationwide, CBP officials were alerted to verify licenses for a significant number of shipments of licensable radiological material for all U.S. airports but did not make all the required calls, leaving numerous shipments potentially unverified.

In addition, the report states, CBP’s procedures for identifying licensable radiological material do not ensure that all such shipments are identified and verified, in part because they rely on automated alerts that currently do not include all relevant information that could indicate potentially dangerous radiological material. CBP has not conducted a comprehensive assessment of the information not currently included in the alerts or how to create a more risk-based approach that distinguishes between higher- and lower-risk quantities of radiological materials, meaning CBP cannot target its limited resources to the shipments that pose the greatest risk.

In response to GAO’s recommendations, CBP officials stated that they (1) intend to update the Radiation Detection Standard Operating Procedures Directive by Aug. 31 to include the addition of a monitoring process to ensure compliance with mandated license verification policies and procedures, (2) planned to complete by the end of 2017 a comprehensive assessment of information associated with the most potentially dangerous radiological material that may not be included in the automated alerts, and (3) aim to develop by Aug. 31 an intelligence-driven process that identifies shipments of radiological materials that pose the greatest risk.

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