One of the last steps to full-fledged membership by U.S. based participants in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism is the C-TPAT validation procedure. All C-TPAT partners that are “certified” by Customs (i.e., approved) are subject to validation by the agency. Shortly after certification, Customs notifies the partner that the agency will “validate” the company’s security profile by visiting the company in the U.S. and reviewing its security profile on-site.
This validation is not supposed to be an audit or investigation, but rather a “check” of the company profile to ensure that what was stated in the profile is accurate — and to provide the C-TPAT-certified partner with additional security recommendations
The two-person Customs validation team that visits the U.S.-based C-TPAT partner usually then visits and evaluates the security of one or two of the U.S. C-TPAT member’s overseas business partners — typically a foreign manufacturer/vendor and/or foreign forwarder.
After the validation exercises are completed, the Customs validation team writes up its report and recommendations for action and decision by the firector of the C-TPAT program (including the grant of Tier Benefits).
The following 10 “tips” are presented in a step-by-step manner to help you prepare for this foreign validation exercise.
1. Be proactive. Identify and, if possible, evaluate the security of your foreign business partners in conjunction with the C-TPAT security recommendations.
For importers with only a few vendors, this may be easy. For others, it may require that you obtain your trade data to identify likely foreign validation candidates. You may be able to suggest a vendor to be validated to the Customs validation team.
2. Develop a draft-validation schedule for the foreign business partner.
Once Customs has selected the foreign validation partner, work with the partner to develop a draft schedule for the validation exercise. Remember, Customs’ foreign validations are usually completed within a day. This step can minimize the logistical problems or delays that C-TPAT partners frequently experience with foreign validations.
3. The draft-validation schedule should focus on the security procedures and policies in place at the foreign facility. I recommend that a representative from the U.S. C-TPAT-certified partner attend or participate in the validation exercise.
A draft foreign validation schedule should include a brief overview of the foreign facility operations (a 10- to 15-minute PowerPoint presentation, for example) and identification of the company representatives participating in the validation (see next step for more on this). After the introduction, a facility tour could be proposed, followed by time for interviews of company representatives by the Customs validation team.
4. Identify the foreign company and C-TPAT partner representatives who will participate in the validation in the draft schedule.
If possible, include the CEO, CFO or an upper-management representative in the foreign team that will participate in the validation. The other foreign representatives that likely will be interviewed by the Customs validation team will include individuals in charge of, or responsible for, facility security, human resources and information technology. Note that language barriers can delay or complicate the foreign validation. To avoid this problem, ensure that a translator or English-speaking representative is identified in the proposed schedule.
5. Submit the proposed foreign-validation schedule to your Customs supply-chain security specialist for consideration.
While there is no guarantee that the Customs validation team will accept your proposed schedule, Customs is very likely to work with you to accommodate the schedules of all the participants in the validation exercise.
6. Prior to the actual foreign validation, try to assemble relevant documents that may be requested or reviewed by the supply-chain security specialist during or prior to the validation exercise.
In addition to the C-TPAT-certified partner’s supply-chain security profile, review and have copies available of documents or policies referenced in the profile as well as documents relating to the security in place at the foreign facility (including procedures related to physical/facility security, conveyance security, shipping and receiving, information technology controls and personnel security.
7. Consider conducting a “dress rehearsal” of the validation on-site at the foreign facility prior to the actual validation.
A “dress rehearsal” conducted a day or two before the actual validation serves several purposes. For example, it gives the foreign facility representatives a clearer understanding of what to expect during the actual validation and provides an opportunity to fine-tune the schedule if necessary, and/or review likely questions that the Customs validation team may pose with the foreign facility representatives. The dress rehearsal can expedite Customs’ validation by having information readily available at the time of the actual exercise.
8. The “dress rehearsal” also may provide the C-TPAT-certified partner with an opportunity to provide C-TPAT security training to the foreign facility representatives.
Security training is an important component of the C-TPAT program. The dress rehearsal may provide an opportunity for the C-TPAT partner to conduct a C-TPAT security training session for the foreign facility representatives. Any such training should be documented and include a log or listing of participants.
9. The C-TPAT foreign validation involves a review of physical security controls, internal security controls and relevant business partner controls — and the validation may include a site visit to a forwarder or carrier.
Remember that with regard to the controls listed above, the focus of Customs’ foreign validation relates to U.S. imports By reviewing the C-TPAT security recommendations concerning these controls with the foreign entity being validated, you should be able to anticipate most of the questions the validation team will raise during the exercise. It should also be noted that if the foreign validation includes a site visit with a forwarder, rail carrier, trucker, NVOCC or ocean carrier, it is a good idea to ask whether Customs has already validated that party already and inform the supply chain security specialist if that is the case, because a site visit to that party may not be necessary. If the party has not been validated, the Customs validation team will likely review the company’s container-inspection procedures.
10. At the end of the actual foreign-validation exercise, you may wish to ask the supply chain security specialist if Tier 3 benefits will be recommended in his validation report.
Customs’ Web site (www.cbp.gov) provides a C-TPAT Supply Chain Security Best Practices Catalog that discusses the tiered-benefits structure afforded under the program. The top level of benefits, or “Tier 3” benefits, is awarded to C-TPAT-validated partners who adopt security best practices and make substantial security investments to control their cargo. If your review of company security practices indicates adoption of best practices, advising the supply chain security specialist of such measures is recommended.