WASHINGTON-Weaknesses in Customs and Border Protection programs designed to prevent weapons of mass destruction from entering U.S. seaports are “unacceptable” and could have major implications for national security, Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Thursday.
Reports by the Government Accountability Office found serious gaps in container security procedures in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and the Container Security Initiative (CSI) programs, and the HSGAC Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations heard testimony Thursday from U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert Bonner on the challenges of both programs and their impact on homeland security.
Shortly after 9/11, when he was Chairman of the then Governmental Affairs Committee, Lieberman called a hearing on the topic of port security and advocated that the federal government, in partnership with state and local governments and the private sector, devote adequate resources to protecting the nation’s ports against the threat of terrorism.
“Three and a half years later, our vulnerability appears to be only slightly lessened, and the two primary programs designed to protect our shipping lanes are understaffed, poorly managed and operating with minimum effect,” Lieberman said. “The Container Security Initiative and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism are well-intentioned programs that, if run properly, would make us safer. But these GAO reports are genuinely disturbing, and the success rate of these programs in inspecting containers is unacceptably low.”
Among the findings of the reports:
Companies are not required to prove voluntary claims that their goods and containers meet security standards, and such claims are often not verified. According to documents provided to the committees, only seven percent of importers certified as C-TPAT members have been verified as secure by Customs.
The CSI program, which identifies suspicious containers while they are overseas and requires inspectors to unload the container or run them through radiation detectors, was found to inspect only 17.5 percent of containers deemed high-risk because foreign ports were either unwilling to perform the inspections or did not have enough staff.
Of the importers participating in the C-TPAT program, 94 percent can avoid inspections after submitting minimal paperwork, and containers are rubber stamped before the agency has determined whether the inspection equipment is effective.
The GAO reports were requested by Lieberman, HSGAC Chairman Susan Collins, PSI Chairman Norm Coleman and Ranking Member Carl Levin, and Congressman John Dingell, Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.