New GAO report titled: DHS Could Improve Cargo Security by Periodically Assessing Risks from Foreign Ports
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) components have developed models to assess the risks of foreign ports and cargo, but not all components have applied risk management principles to assess whether maritime security programs cover the riskiest ports. The U.S. Coast Guard uses its risk model to inform operational decisions for its International Port Security (IPS) program and annually updates its assessment. In contrast, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not regularly assessed ports for risks to cargo under its Container Security Initiative (CSI) program. CBP’s selection of the initial 23 CSI ports was primarily based on the volume of U.S.-bound containers, but beginning in 2003, CBP considered more threat information when it expanded the number of CSI ports. CBP has not assessed the risk posed by foreign ports that ship cargo to the United States for its CSI program since 2005. In 2009, CBP developed a model that ranked 356 potential expansion ports for a related program on the basis of risk, but it was never implemented because of budget cuts.
By applying CBP’s risk model to fiscal year 2012 cargo shipment data, the Government Accountability Office found that CSI did not have a presence at about half of the ports CBP considered high risk, and about one fifth of the existing CSI ports were at lower risk locations. Since the CSI program depends on cooperation from sovereign host countries, there are challenges to implementing CSI in new foreign locations, and CBP’s negotiations with other countries have not always succeeded. For example, CBP officials said it is difficult to close CSI ports and open new ports because removing CSI from a country might negatively affect U.S. relations with the host government. However, periodically assessing the risk level of cargo shipped from foreign ports and using the results to inform any future expansion of CSI to additional locations, as well as determine whether changes need to be made to existing CSI ports, would help ensure that CBP is allocating its resources to provide the greatest possible coverage of high-risk cargo to best mitigate the risk of importing weapons of mass destruction or other terrorist contraband into the United States through the maritime supply chain.