Customs Service Drug Interdiction

Internal Control Weaknesses and Other Concerns With Low-Risk Cargo Entry Programs Gao ID: GGD-98-175 July 31, 1998

The Customs Service faces a major challenge to effectively carrying out its drug interdiction and trade enforcement missions while facilitating the flow of people and cargo into the United States. To assist in carrying out these seemingly contradictory activities, Customs recognized that processes were needed to identify low-risk cargo and facilitate its movement so that inspectors could focus on shipments at high risk for narcotics smuggling. Toward this end, Customs developed several low-risk, cargo entry programs designed to process certain cargo expeditiously and, at the same time, target for additional scrutiny those shipments considered to be at high risk for drug smuggling. This report describes Customs' low-risk, cargo entry programs in use at three ports on the Southwest border and discusses the results of GAO's evaluation of the internal controls over the Line Release Program and processes used to assess the risk of narcotics smuggling in other cargo entry programs.

GAO noted that: (1) to balance the objectives of facilitating trade through ports and interdicting illegal drugs being smuggled into the United States, Customs has initiated and encouraged its ports to use several programs to identify and separate low-risk shipments from those with apparently higher smuggling risk; (2) the Line Release Program was designed to expedite cargo shipments that Customs determined to be repetitive, high volume, and low risk for narcotics smuggling; (3) in 1996, Customs implemented the Carrier Initiative Program, which required that the Line Release shipments across the Southwest border be transported by Customs-approved carriers and driven by Customs-approved drivers; (4) after the Carrier Initiative Program was implemented, the number of Southwest border Line Release shipments dropped significantly; (5) GAO identified internal control weaknesses in one or more of the processes used at each of the three ports it visited to screen Line Release applicants for entry into the program; (6) these weaknesses included: (a) lack of specific criteria for determining applicant eligibility at two of the three ports; (b) incomplete documentation of the screening and review of applicants at two of the three ports; and (c) lack of documentation of supervisory review and approval of decisions; (7) in May 1998, Customs representatives from northern and southern land-border cargo ports approved draft Line Release volume and compliance eligibility criteria for program applicants and draft recertification standards for program participants; (8) the Three Tier Targeting Program--a method of targeting high-risk shipments for narcotics inspection--was being used at the three Southwest border ports that GAO visited; (9) according to officials at the three ports GAO reviewed, the Three Tier program had two operational problems that contributed to their loss of confidence in the program's ability to distinguish high- from low-risk shipments; (10) one new targeting method--the Automated Targeting System--is being pilot tested at Laredo; (11) used in conjunction with the Prefile Program, this system is designed to enable port officials to identify and direct inspectional attention to high-risk shipments; (12) the Automated Targeting System, which automatically assesses shipment entry information for known smuggling indicators, is designed to enable inspectors to target high-risk shipments more efficiently; and (13) Customs is evaluating the Automated Targeting System for expansion to other land-border cargo ports.


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