Coast Guard

Program to Inspect Intermodal Containers Carrying Hazardous Materials Can Be Improved Gao ID: RCED-94-139 April 27, 1994

The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that up to 2.1 million intermodal freight containers carrying hazardous materials, such as explosives and poison gas, pass through our nation's seaports each year. The Coast Guard's draft procedures for inspecting hazardous materials, which have been implemented in pilot programs at two ports, are scheduled to be introduced nationwide in April 1994. GAO concludes that the effectiveness of the nationwide program will be jeopardized unless several problems are overcome. First, the Coast Guard's approach of inspecting relatively few containers, using locally developed inspection procedures, will not achieve the maximum regulatory compliance for the inspection resources invested. A better approach would be to target high-risk shipments, such as those of shippers with a history of noncompliance. Second, Coast Guard inspectors are unsure about how to interpret some of the thousands of regulations to be enforced. Third, in most cases, shippers are not notified of violations that are corrected on the spot. As a result, they may be unaware of the problem and may repeat the same mistakes. Finally, an agreement under which Coast Guard inspectors are to train Customs Service inspectors on transportation regulations and Customs inspectors are to refer possible violations to the Coast Guard for enforcement has yet to be implemented.

GAO found that: (1) although the Coast Guard is initiating its nationwide inspection program, it needs to address several problems in order to effectively regulate the expanding chemical transportation industry with its available inspection resources; (2) Coast Guard inspectors are not focusing their resources on inspecting high-risk containers and are uncertain about how to interpret some transportation regulations; (3) the Coast Guard is not notifying shippers of violations in their procedures for shipping hazardous materials; (4) although the Coast Guard and the Customs Service agreed that the Coast Guard would train Customs inspectors on hazardous materials transportation regulations, Customs inspectors are not identifying and referring possible violations to the Coast Guard; and (5) the Coast Guard is increasing its inspection work force, assigning container inspectors to its field offices, and forming a national strike force to provide training and expertise in container inspections.


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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