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Marine Log

May 27, 2008

GAO: C-TPAT still faces security challenges

A report on supply chain security from GAO looks at the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, or C-TPAT, program and finds that it still has "challenges."

You can download the report here.

As part of the C-TPAT program, U.S. Customs and Border Protection aims to secure the flow of goods from manufacturers to retailers through partnerships with international trade companies. Member companies agree to allow CBP to validate their security practices and, in exchange, they are awarded benefits, such as reduced scrutiny of their cargo.

In 2005, GAO reviewed the C-TPAT program and noted operational challenges. For this latest report, GAO was asked to assess the progress CBP has made since 2005 in (1) improving its benefit award policies for C-TPAT members, (2) addressing challenges in validating members' security practices, and (3) addressing management and staffing challenges.

Though CBP has taken steps to improve the security validation process, it still faces challenges in verifying that C-TPAT members' security practices meet minimum criteria. CBP has sought to strengthen the validation process by providing appropriate guidance and developing a portable, electronic instrument to help ensure that validation information is consistently collected, documented, and uniformly applied to decisions regarding the awarding of benefits to C-TPAT members. However, the usefulness of the instrument is limited due to its default "no" responses. Specifically, if a response is marked "no," it is unclear whether a security specialist, who has the discretion to answer or not answer individual questions, intentionally answered the question or if the response was an automatic default. This factor limits the ability of CBP to validate security practices at member companies.

GAO is recommending that CBP improve its electronic validation instrument, improve the validation process, enhance its records management system, and establish performance measures for improving supply chain security. CBP concurred with each of the recommendations and in an appendix to the report spells out what steps it will take and the due dates it has set itself for implementation.

Whether this will be enough to assuage Congressional critics remains to be seen.

In a statement issued today, Senator Patty Murray (D.-Wash) called the GAO's findings " very troubling."

"Congress set out specific requirements for C-TPAT in legislation and we expect Customs to perform the duties we require of them," said Senator Murray. "When it comes to protecting our people and economy, we can't afford to simply give companies the benefit of the doubt. We need to ensure that their supply chains are safe, from foreign factories, to ocean carriers, to our shores."

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