Thursday, September 8, 2011

Maritime Security Content of GAO Report On DHS Progress Since 9/11

On Wednesday September 7, 2011, the Government Accountability Office released GAO Report 11-881, “Department of Homeland Security: Progress Made and Work Remaining in Implementing Homeland Security Missions 10 Years after 9/11.” Since DHS’ inception in 2003, the GAO has issued over 1,000 products about the agency. Since 2003, “DHS is now the third-largest federal department, with more than 200,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $50 billion. “ This particular report addresses DHS’s progress in implementing its homeland security missions since it began operations, work remaining, and issues affecting implementation efforts.

GAO divided DHS’ homeland security responsibilities into ten functional areas, one of which is maritime security. The report discusses progress made and work that remains to be done. Some highlights:

“However, the information system for tracking inspections and efforts to assess the effectiveness of security measures should be improved….We are conducting work examining the Maritime Security Risk Analysis Model, as well as reviewing the role that risk plays in the allocation of resources in the Port Security Grant Program… We plan to report the results from our ongoing work later this year.” (p. 106.)

“With regard to foreign seafarers, in January 2011 we reported that because of a lack of technology capability, DHS did not electronically verify identity and immigration status on board cargo vessels, thus limiting assurance that fraud was identified among documents presented by foreign seafarers seeking admission into the United States….For example, both CBP and the Coast Guard track the frequency of absconder (a seafarer CBP has ordered detained on board a vessel in port, but who departs a vessel without permission) and deserter (a seafarer CBP grants permission to leave a vessel, but who does not return when required) incidents at U.S. seaports, but the records of these incidents varied considerably among the two agencies.” (p. 108.)

Concerning the TWIC GAO report: “We recommended, among other things, that DHS assess the program’s internal controls to identify needed corrective actions, assess its effectiveness, and use the information to identify effective and cost-efficient methods for meeting program objectives. DHS concurred and stated that it has initiated a review of current Transportation Worker Identification Credential program internal controls with a specific focus on the controls highlighted in our May 2011 report. As DHS is in the early stages of implementing these actions, it is too early to assess their impact. Until such efforts are completed, it will be difficult for DHS to provide reasonable assurance that the program is meeting its goals and that only qualified applicants can acquire the credentials.” (p.108.)

Some other interesting extracts from the report are:

“Additionally, Coast Guard records showed that at some ports, a lack of resources hindered some Coast Guard units from meeting their self-imposed requirements for activities, such as escorts and boardings to secure tankers.” (p. 109.)

“In July 2011, DHS reported that it had completed an interagency review of maritime domain awareness requirements which resulted in the publication of a document that included key strategic capabilities, objectives, resources, and evaluative methods needed to maintain maritime domain awareness.” (p. 110.)

About small vessel security, the report states, “We identified limitations in the Coast Guard’s efforts to track vessels at sea. In March 2009, we reported that the means of tracking vessels at sea are potentially effective, but each has features that could impede its effectiveness. Also, the systems used in U.S. coastal areas, inland waterways, and ports—automatic identification system, radar, and video cameras—had more difficulty tracking smaller and noncommercial vessels because these vessels were not generally required to carry automatic identification system equipment, and because of the technical limitations of radar and cameras. To help address the small vessel threat, DHS developed a Small Vessel Security Strategy in April 2008, and in January 2011 issued the implementation plan for the strategy. As DHS is in the process of executing its implementation plan, it is too early to assess its effectiveness in enhancing

maritime security.” (p. 111.)