U.S. Maritime Security Improved Over Last Decade, Report Finds

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September 11, 2012

The U.S. Government Accountability Office today offered praise to the Department of Homeland Security’s work towards improved maritime security on today’s 11th anniversary of 9-11.

In a GAO report released today, titled Progress and Challenges 10 Years after the Maritime Transportation Security Act, GAO says that DHS and it’s component agencies, particularly the USCG and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), have all made substantial progress in implementing various programs that have contributed to overall improved maritime security for the United States.

In particular, GAO notes, the security programs have focused on four main areas including security planning; port facility and vessel security; maritime domain awareness and information sharing; and international supply chain security.

For security planning, GAO says they have seen success of the Coast Guard’s Area Maritime Security Plans implemented around the country that identify and coordinate Coast Guard procedures at U.S. ports. The Coast Guard has also implemented programs to conduct annual inspections of port facilities and, in terms of vessels, both CBP and the Coast Guard receive and screen information on commercial vessels and crews prior to arriving at U.S. ports.

The DHS have taken steps to better vessel domain awareness by improving risk management and implementing a vessel tracking system. For example, in July 2011, CBP developed the Small Vessel Reporting System, deployed at eight different locations, to better track small boats arriving from abroad.

GAO says that DHS and component agencies have also taken actions to improve international supply chain security, including developing new technologies to detect contraband, implementing programs to inspect U.S.-bound cargo at foreign ports, and establishing partnerships with the trade industry community and foreign governments.

But despite this progress, the GAO report notes some challenges in implementing initiatives, particularly in areas of program management and implementation; partnerships and collaboration; resources, funding, and sustainability; and performance measures.

For example, CBP designed and implemented an initiative that placed CBP staff at foreign seaports to work with host nation customs officials to identify high-risk, U.S.-bound container cargo, but CBP initially did not have a strategic or workforce plan to guide its efforts. The Coast Guard has faced collaboration challenges when developing and implementing its information management system for enhancing information sharing with key federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies because it did not systematically solicit input from these stakeholders.

Meanwhile, budget and funding decisions have also affected the implementation of maritime security programs, GAO notes.  For example, Coast Guard data indicate that some of its units are not able to meet self-imposed standards related to certain security activities–including boarding and escorting vessels. In addition, DHS has experienced challenges in developing effective performance measures for assessing the progress of its maritime security programs. For example, the Coast Guard developed a performance measure to assess its performance in reducing maritime risk, but has faced challenges using this measure to inform decisions.

Read: Progress and Challenges 10 Years after the Maritime Transportation Security Act

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