Customs needs to improve container inspections: GAO

Customs needs to improve container inspections: GAO

The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection has taken a number of steps to identify shipments that pose a terrorist threat, but the agency's targeting strategy is not consistent with accepted risk-management and computer-modeling practices, according to the General Accounting Office.

Customs Automated Targeting System does not have all the tools that experts say it needs to assess and categorize levels of risk and vulnerability. Customs also has not certified the people using the system, conducted outside peer review, or tested against simulated terrorist incursions, said Richard M. Stana, GAO director of homeland security and justice.

Stana was among officials who testified Tuesday in Camden, N.J. at a field hearing by the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations. GAO staff members met with Customs, and visited five major U.S. container ports.

"As part of a program to prevent terrorists from smuggling weapons of mass destruction into the United States, CBP has taken a number of positive steps to target cargo containers for inspection," Stana said, but "CBP faces a number of other challenges in implementing its strategy."

Stana noted that Customs' use of mobile gamma ray inspection equipment was limited at some ports because of lack of space at piers. Customs also did not have a system to track containers by risk category. He told the subcommittee that GAO had begun to meet with Customs to discuss its findings.

Edward Henderson, director of strategic planning for the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, told the subcommittee that inspecting more containers will increase supply-chain costs. He estimated that stripping a container for inspection adds five days to its release time, and an additional $800 in costs.

-- R.G. Edmonson in Washington