U.S. Customs and Border Protection has made “substantial progress” but also continues to experience challenges with respect to implementing initiatives and programs responsible for enhancing maritime cargo security, according to a recent Government Accountability Office statement before a congressional panel.

CBP has developed a layered security strategy that focuses its limited resources on targeting and examining high-risk cargo shipments while allowing other shipments to proceed without unduly disrupting commerce arriving in the U.S. This strategy is based on initiatives and programs that include the Automated Targeting System, which compares cargo information against intelligence and other law enforcement data to create a single record for each U.S.-bound shipment and determine its level of risk for transporting weapons of mass destruction or other contraband; the Container Security Initiative, which stations CBP officers at select foreign seaports to review information about U.S.-bound containerized cargo shipments; the Secure Freight Initiative, which involves the use of radiation detection and non-intrusive inspection equipment to scan cargo containers before they are loaded onto vessels at select foreign seaports; and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, which provides various benefits to companies that comply with minimum security criteria.

Examples of CBP’s progress and challenges in these areas include the following.

- In January 2015 GAO found that CBP did not have accurate data on the number and disposition of each high-risk maritime cargo shipment scheduled to arrive in the U.S. and that in determining the disposition of such shipments CBP officers were inconsistently applying criteria to make some waiver decisions and incorrectly documenting the reasons for waivers. That December CBP issued a new policy that includes criteria for waiving mandatory examinations of high-risk shipments, developed a new process for recording waivers and issued a memorandum to targeting units on how to apply the new procedures.

- In September 2013 GAO reported that CBP had not regularly assessed foreign ports for risks to cargo since 2005 and that CSI did not have a presence at about half of the foreign ports considered high-risk. CBP has since developed a port risk matrix and priority map to be used to help assess whether changes need to be made to CSI ports. These tools are to be updated yearly and can be updated more frequently based on significant changes, emerging threats and intelligence.

- In October 2009 GAO reported that scanning operations at the initial SFI ports encountered a number of challenges, including safety concerns, logistical problems with containers transferred from rail or other vessels, scanning equipment breakdowns, and poor quality scan images. The Department of Homeland Security has since issued three two-year extensions of the deadline for implementing the 100 percent scanning mandate, most recently through July 2018, but has not yet identified a viable solution to meet the requirement. DHS recently solicited new ideas for doing so (click here for more information) and will seek to test any viable solutions in operational environments.

- In April 2008 GAO found that CBP lacked a systematic process to ensure that C-TPAT members take appropriate actions in response to security validations and that C-TPAT’s performance measures were insufficient to assess the impact of the program on increasing supply chain security. CBP has since created an automated platform to track and capture the content and communication between CBP and C-TPAT members to ensure that C-TPAT validation report recommendations are implemented and has identified analytical tools and data for trend analysis to better assess C-TPAT’s impact on the supply chain. GAO is currently reviewing how CBP assesses C-TPAT member benefits and conducts security validation responsibilities and anticipates issuing a report in late fall.

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