U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) airport officials have not verified licenses for some radiological imports and its processes do not ensure all of those shipments are identified, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Wednesday.
CBP is responsible for verifying radiological imports are authorized or licensed, such as through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or state licensing.
CBP officials at two of four airports GAO visited said they were calling experts in the CBP Teleforensic Center to verify licenses as required, but CBP officials at the other two airports “did not verify many licenses” from Jan. 1, 2015, through Sept. 30, 2016, and “headquarters officials were unaware of non-compliance with CBP policy,” the report says.
“GAO found that during this time frame nationwide, CBP officials were alerted to verify licenses for a significant number of shipments of licensable radiological material for all U.S. airports, but they did not make all the required calls – leaving numerous shipments potentially unverified over this 21-month period,” the GAO said. “This situation occurred because CBP does not have a monitoring system to ensure that officials make license verification calls as required. Until CBP develops a monitoring system for license verification, it will not have reasonable assurance that it can identify activities inconsistent with its policy and take corrective action.”
The Teleforensic Center provides CBP field officers with assistance in resolving scientific and technological questions, including detection, isolation, and control of potential threats that could result from the presence of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear materials, the GAO said.
Certain CBP procedures for verifying all radiological material imports aren’t effective, in part, because they rely on automated alerts based on “some but not all” relevant information that could indicate potentially dangerous radiological material, the GAO said. The alerts are intended to notify CBP officials when a shipment requires license verification.
Further limiting CBP efforts to detect radiological material is the number of radiological portal monitors that service air carriers, the GAO indicated. Express consignment couriers and air cargo carriers import radiological material into the U.S., and while “dozens” of radiological portal monitors in U.S. airports cover express carriers, “few” service air cargo carriers, the report says.
CBP told GAO that handheld monitors are used to scan radioactive material at airports where portal monitors aren’t available, according to the report.
The report didn’t identify what airports GAO officials visited. A GAO spokesman said his office can’t provide the information for “security reasons.” “We certainly would not want to publicly identify specific vulnerabilities to those who might chose to do harm,” he said. “We notified the proper authorities.” CBP didn’t comment.
The GAO recommended that CBP develop a monitoring system to help ensure CBP officials comply with license verification policies and procedures, comprehensively assess information not included in automated alerts to determine what information is needed to identify licensable radiological material, and to develop a system to better identify shipments of radiological material posing the greatest risk and revise CBP policies and procedures to verify licenses.
The Department of Homeland Security concurred with GAO’s recommendations.
In a response by DHS management appended to the report, DHS said several agencies would work together to conduct a comprehensive assessment of information associated with the most “potentially dangerous radiological material that may not be included” in CBP’s automated alerts, which are issued by the Office of Trade.
DHS said that the CBP office will implement “applicable changes” to the automated system in an effort to prevent unlicensed radiological material from entering the U.S., with an estimated completion date of Dec. 29, 2017. CBP didn’t comment.
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