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Marine Log

January 25, 2008

GAO reports on supply chain security

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) still seems "room for improvement" in Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) efforts to enhance supply chain security.

In a just-released report, (Supply Chain Security GAO -08-187), GAO notes that it reported in 2003 and 2005 that CBP's Container Security Initiative helped to enhance homeland security, and recommended actions to strengthen the program. This latest report updates information and assesses how CBP has (1) contributed to strategic planning for supply chain security, (2) strengthened CSI operations, and (3) evaluated CSI operations.

To address these issues, GAO, which is known as the investigative arm of Congress, interviewed CBP officials and reviewed CSI evaluations and performance measures. GAO also visited selected U.S. and CSI seaports, and met with U.S. and foreign government officials.

The report says that by collaborating on the development of the Department of Homeland Security's Strategy to Enhance International Supply Chain Security, and by revising the CSI strategic plan as GAO recommended, CBP has contributed to the overall U.S. strategic planning efforts related to enhancing the security for the overseas supply chain.

Also, CBP reached its targets of operating CSI in 58 foreign seaports, and thereby having 86 percent of all U.S.-bound cargo containers pass through CSI seaports in fiscal year 2007--representing a steady increase in these measures of CSI performance.

To strengthen CSI operations, CBP has sought to address human capital challenges and previous GAO recommendations by increasing CSI staffing levels closer to those called for in its staffing model and revising its human capital plan.

However, challenges remain because CBP continues to rely, in part, on a temporary workforce; has not determined how to optimize its staffing resources; and reports difficulties in identifying sufficient numbers of qualified staff. In addition, CBP has enhanced relationships with host governments participating in CSI. However, hurdles to cooperation remain at some seaports, such as restrictions on CSI teams witnessing examinations.

CBP improved its evaluation of CSI team performance at seaports, but limitations remain in the evaluation process that affect the accuracy and completeness of data collected.

CBP has not set minimum technical criteria for equipment or systematically collected information on the equipment, people, and processes involved in CSI host government examinations of high-risk, U.S-bound container cargo.

Also, CBP has not developed general guidelines to use in assessing the reliability of these examinations. Thus, CBP potentially lacks information to ensure that host government examinations can detect and identify weapons of mass destruction, which is important because containers are typically not reexamined in the United States if already examined at a CSI seaport.

CBP refined overall CSI performance measures, but has not fully developed performance measures and annual targets for core CSI functions, such as the examination of high-risk containers before they are placed on vessels bound for the United States.

GAO warns that these weaknesses in CBP's data collection and performance measures potentially limit the information available on overall CSI effectiveness.

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