Customs and Border Protection should update some policies for port-of-entry inspections to help ensure that officers have necessary guidance to consistently and properly perform examinations, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released Aug. 6.
Some CBP inspection policies haven’t been updated for almost 20 years, and policies don’t always reflect changes in technology or processes, such as those for conducting searches and handling fentanyl, GAO said.
For example, CBP’s Narcotics Interdiction Guide Handbook hasn’t been updated since it was issued in 1999, GAO noted. The guide doesn’t address fentanyl, which requires special handling and has been a main contributor to the recent rise in U.S. overdose deaths, GAO said.
Another example is CBP’s Land Border Inspectional Safety Policy, which hasn’t been updated since it was issued in 2001.
CBP officials acknowledged many policies need to be updated because “some are almost 20 years old and many technological and other changes have occurred that may not be described in existing policies,” the report says.
Further, there are opportunities to enhance analysis of the results from CBP’s national self-inspection program (SIP) and covert operational testing, GAO said.
The SIP involves CBP managers who are responsible for implementing policies and procedures completing worksheets designed to determine whether their office is complying with federal laws, regulations, CBP policies and other requirements.
CBP annually analyzes the results of the SIP to identify systemic compliance issues across the agency in a given year, but doesn’t analyze noncompliance at individual ports of entry over time, the report says.
“By analyzing these data, CBP could better identify and address deficiencies at individual POEs,” GAO said.
CBP’s Office of Intelligence Operational Field Testing Division (OFTD) conducts covert tests of inspection activities, including for nonintrusive inspection equipment contraband detection, canine contraband identification, radiation detection and biological agent detection.
GAO found that 135 of 213 covert tests conducted from fiscal 2013 through fiscal 2018 weren’t included in comprehensive assessments (which comprise the aggregated results of covert tests) that CBP conducted in fiscal years 2013, 2014 and 2018.
Further, while CBP performance measures generally reflect key attributes of effective measures, CBP doesn’t set an ambitious and realistic target for one measure — the land border interception rate.
The agency’s target for this — the estimated percentage of major violations in privately owned vehicles that CBP intercepts out of the projected total number of major violations — is lower than the actual reported rate for fiscal 2015 to fiscal 2018, GAO said.
“A more ambitious target for the interception rate would better encourage CBP to review past performance of inspection activities that impact the measure and challenge CBP to identify ways to improve performance,” the report says.
GAO noted that CBP plans to improve inspection processes in the future. These could include conducting tests to use facial-recognition technology as part of port-of-entry inspections.
In developing the report, GAO analyzed CBP documents and data related to inbound inspections, interviewed CBP field office and headquarters officials and observed operations at seven land ports of entry.
GAO cited Drug Enforcement Administration data showing that one of the most common smuggling methods used by Mexican transnational criminal organizations involves transporting drugs commingled with legitimate goods on tractor trailers through land ports of entry.
GAO recommended that CBP review and update policies related to land port of entry inspections in accordance with OFO guidance; analyze SIP results to identify and address recurring inspection deficiencies at individual ports of entry; implement a policy for periodic comprehensive analyses of covert test findings; and develop a more ambitious target for the land border interception rate measure.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concurred with GAO’s recommendations.
In response to the GAO report, DHS said it will review and update policies related to land port of entry inspections, as OFO has started a process to modernize handbooks, policy memoranda and directives, which DHS said will make the documents less dependent on specific system names and more process-oriented. The expected date of completion for the updates is April 30, 2020.
Further, DHS said OFO will incorporate analysis of SIP results from individual reporting units into the OFO SIP Cycle Annual Report, starting with the release of the fiscal year 2020 report on Sept. 30, 2020, DHS said.
The FY 2021 report, to be released about a year later, will feature an analysis of recurring inspection deficiencies over time at individual reporting units.
DHS added that a policy currently is being written to address determining factors and inputs needed to produce a comprehensive report of covert tests, to include periodic reviews of corrective actions taken to mitigate vulnerabilities and weaknesses, with an expected completion date of March 31, 2020.
Finally, OFO will develop a “new, realistic target” for the land border interception rate based on performance for the rate for passengers in privately owned vehicles with major violations and will compare FY 2017, 2018 and 2019 data to set a new target for FY 2020. The expected completion date for this deliverable is Dec. 31, 2020.