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CBP Ineffective at Monitoring High-Risk Rail Shipments from Canada and Mexico

Posted March 20, 2015


A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection needs to improve its targeting and examination of rail shipments entering the U.S. from Mexico and Canada. CBP may have failed to target or properly examine rail shipments that were at an increased risk to contain contraband or dangerous materials, the report states, and has no assurance that decisions to release these high-risk shipments into U.S. commerce were appropriate. These shortcomings are of particular concern considering that from 1999 to 2013 U.S. trade by rail more than tripled with Mexico (from $20 billion to $69 billion) and nearly doubled with Canada (from $57 billion to $105 billion).

Targeting Criteria

Effective Aug. 26, 2009, ports of entry with rail crossings were required to use specific Automated Targeting System criteria for threshold targeting. If the shipments meets or exceeds a specific ATS threshold or score after applying this criteria, the shipment is determined to be high risk and subject to an exam. However, out of 254 shipments the OIG reviewed at six ports of entry, CBP officers used incorrect targeting criteria 23% of the time. Officers said they were unaware of the correct criteria, insufficiently trained in using ATS or inadvertently used inapplicable criteria. Supervisory officers also did not ensure that the officers were using the correct criteria.

Radiation Detection Equipment

A May 2012 CBP directive requires officers to conduct all mandated ATS targeted exams using available large-scale non-intrusive inspection technology and requires the use of a radiation isotope identifier device to fulfill the radiation screening requirement. However, the OIG found that 72% of the 222 shipments it evaluated were not examined by RIID. Officials at one port said the rail unit did not have a dedicated RIID, while officers at two other ports said that they only used an RIID when their personal radiation detector alerted them to higher levels of radiation or that they believed PRDs were an acceptable way to examine high-risk shipments.

Cargo Enforcement Reporting and Tracking System

CERTS is a sub-module within ATS that allows CBP officers to record all exams and any applicable findings of cargo and cargo conveyances. Rail ports were mandated to use CERTS effective April 13, 2011, CERTS records must be created to document the results of both NII and physical exams, and supervisors are responsible for ensuring that officers input all cargo exam and findings data into CERTS within four hours after completing the exam. However, the OIG found that out of 222 shipments sampled that required CERTS records, CBP officers did not create NII exam records for 69% and did not create physical exam records for 16%. This issue occurred because some officers were not sufficiently trained to use CERTS and supervisory officers did not routinely ensure that exam results were recorded in the system.

CBP Response

In response to OIG’s recommendations for improvement, CBP said it anticipates issuing by April 1 an updated National Cargo Targeting Policy that will include mandatory criteria for rail targeting, reiterate that supervisory officers are responsible for confirming the use of mandatory rail targeting criteria and ensuring that exam results are properly entered into CERTS, require exam results to be recorded in CERTS, and reflect that the port director or his/her designee will be accountable for intermittently reviewing CERTS reports to identify noncompliance and taking corrective actions. CBP is also developing system enhancements that will enable CERTS to generate reports to identify high-risk shipments not in compliance with policy.

Click here to download the Inspector General’s report.