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GAO Report; Customs Not Able to Validate Benefits to C-TPAT Participants
February 9, 2017


Author: Jacob M. Lehmann

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a February 2017 report criticizing deficiencies in the CBP's Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program's communications systems, as well as recommending clearer, more uniform guidance from C-TPAT central headquarters to field offices regarding C-TPAT's member eligibility review process.

Of direct interest to many C-TPAT members is the CBP's acknowledgement that its Dashboard program, an internal data management system which maintains records on its customs-related activities, does not provide adequately precise information for CBP officials to evaluate whether C-TPAT members are receiving the cost- and time-saving benefits promised on C-TPAT's program webpage.

In addition, the report noted that Customs evaluation of C-TPAT relies extensively upon Customs’ Portal system, updated in August of 2015, for management of all member data, including their dates of initial certification. C-TPAT staff members told GAO investigators that Portal had incorrectly modified these certification dates and, as a result, hindered them from performing timely, legally mandated annual membership eligibility reviews. These reviews determine the extent to which member importers, foreign producers, and third-party logistics contractors meet anti-terrorism security requirements and the benefits, such as reduced waiting times at port and less frequent customs inspections, which they can receive through C-TPAT.

GAO's report recommended clearer, "standardized" guidance from C-PAT's central headquarters to CBP field offices concerning validations to ensure consistent enforcement and to provide reliable data regarding the program's overall effectiveness. According to interviews conducted with field office staff, many ports of entry have developed unique security criteria for their required reviews. The Department of Homeland Security concurred with GAO's conclusions and has announced that the CBP Dashboard will be terminated and replaced by June 2017. New agency guidance is forthcoming, due in May 2017.

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