Cargo Imports

Customs Needs To Better Assure Compliance With Trade Laws and Regulations Gao ID: GGD-86-136 September 8, 1986

In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Customs Service's cargo inspection process to determine whether the process ensured adequate enforcement of U.S. import laws.

GAO found that most of Customs' physical examinations of imported cargo were superficial and inadequate because the inspectors: (1) usually examined one or two packages selected from the most accessible locations in the shipment; (2) often allowed non-Customs personnel to select the merchandise to be examined; and (3) usually did not verify that the quantity in the shipment was equal to the amount the importers declared. The Department of the Treasury's amendment to Customs' regulations allowed Customs to use a selected inspection system in which it would examine only the shipments categorized as high-risk; however, the manner in which Customs performed the inspections did not provide reliable information for determining whether it should examine similar shipments. GAO believes that: (1) the lack of specific guidelines and the high volume of merchandise requiring inspection have reduced the quality of Customs' examinations; and (2) although Customs' inspectors should have some discretion in determining the thoroughness of examinations, guidelines are needed for determining the examination intensity based on the shipment's potential risk.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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