A new Government Accountably Office (GAO) report finds that the U.S. Coast Guard’s International Port Security Program has not consistently gathered information on the security abilities and characteristics of foreign ports that play vital roles in the U.S. supply chain.

The program – which resumed operations in May 2021 after a pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic – focuses on assessing foreign ports and their security abilities. Those include areas like cybersecurity and the physical security of the ports themselves.

GAO noted that “terrorists and criminals can target the U.S. supply chain through security vulnerabilities in foreign ports,” and that the Coast Guard program aims to assess and strengthen the security of these ports.

“The Coast Guard has faced a longstanding challenge in accessing some countries’ ports to conduct assessments,” GAO said. “In recent years, the service began using alternative approaches to make determinations for some countries it has been unable to visit. However, the program has not consistently done so.”

According to GAO, the program tries to evaluate key areas such as access control, monitoring, control of cargo, and the training of port personnel.

“The Coast Guard has not always conducted a country assessment in person to make a foreign port security determination. Coast Guard officials stated that even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program faced challenges accessing some countries to conduct required country assessments,” GAO said.

Part of the problem is the inherent unwillingness of some nations to cooperate with the programs assessment process. “This is because the program’s ability to do so is subject to a country’s approval and its diplomatic relations with the United States,” said GAO.

Further, GAO flagged how the program has not “disseminated its most comprehensive report,” which can prove to be useful for other agencies such as the as Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which has “a vested interest in receiving it.”

The report concludes with six recommendations for the Coast Guard Commandant, all of which the Coast Guard agreed with:

  • Ensure the International Port Security Program documents procedures describing when and how it should use alternative approaches to issue a foreign port security assessment determination;
  • Ensure the service disseminates the International Port Security Program’s annual foreign port assessment reports to CBP;
  • Ensure the service determines which Federal agencies have a vested interest in receiving the International Port Security Program’s annual foreign port security assessment reports and disseminate its reports to them;
  • Ensure the International Port Security Program establishes a process with cognizant Department of State offices to coordinate planning on foreign maritime port security capacity building;
  • Ensure its cognizant offices establish a process to coordinate planning with each other and with the Coast Guard International Port Security Program to implement maritime port security related capacity building; and
  • Ensure the International Port Security Program incorporates performance measures that fully address the program’s two key objectives of meeting its triennial assessment mandate and assessing risk to maritime security by assessing security at all visited ports.
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Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.