Customs' Cargo Processing

Fewer but More Intensive Inspections Are in Order Gao ID: GGD-78-79 September 7, 1978

The U.S. Customs Service's mission since 1789 has been to collect the revenue on imports and to prevent improper entry of goods. During fiscal year 1977, over $152 billion worth of merchandise was imported which required the inspection of merchandise for 7.4 million shipments, inspection of 3.9 million freight carriers, and processing of about 3.7 million separate commercial cargo entries. This workload forces Customs either to perform very limited inspections or to seriously impede the flow of imported cargo.

Rather than impede trade, Customs makes limited inspections that are seldom effective and do not ensure compliance with laws and regulations governing imports. Quantities and merchandise descriptions are seldom verified. Customs agencies in other countries have chosen to concentrate on thorough inspections of fewer items based on the belief that inspecting a limited number of items, selected on sound criteria, effectively deters violations and negates the need to inspect every item. This approach is similar to that used successfully by the Internal Revenue Service to select tax returns for audit. A selective cargo inspection system containing the elements of scientific random selection, specific selection, and postaudit would allow Customs to make fewer but more comprehensive inspections. Scientific random selection would deter violations because importers would never know which shipments would be selected, and specific selection would ensure that high risk shipments would be inspected.


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