Homeland Security Begins Work on Container Security Standards

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is partnering with the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) to develop performance standards—requirements that must be met by products to ensure they will function as intended—for container security technologies. CBP, which is responsible for container security, is constantly on the lookout for cargo containers that are being used to transport unlawful cargo, including weapons of mass destruction, illicit arms, stowaways, and illegal narcotics into the United States.

After successful completion of testing, S&T plans to deliver performance standards to DHS's Office of Policy Development and CBP. DHS has conducted research and development for four container security technology projects, but has not yet developed performance standards for them.

From 2004 through 2009, S&T spent approximately $60 million and made varying levels of progress in the research and development of its four container security technology projects. These projects include the Advanced Container Security Device (ACSD), to detect intrusion on all six sides of a container; the Container Security Device (CSD), to detect the opening or removal of container doors; the Hybrid Composite Container, a lightweight container with an embedded sensor grid to detect intrusion on all six sides of the container; and the Marine Asset Tag Tracking System (MATTS), to track containers.

The ACSD and Hybrid Composite Container technologies have not yet completed laboratory testing, but the CSD and MATTS are proceeding to testing in an operational environment, which will determine if the technologies can operate in the global supply chain. S&T's master plans for conducting operational environment testing, however, do not reflect all of the operational scenarios the Office of Policy Development and CBP are considering for implementation.

According to DHS guidance, before S&T can provide performance standards to the Office of Policy Development and CBP, the technologies are to have been proven to work in their final form and under expected operational conditions. Until the container security technologies are tested and evaluated consistent with all of the operational scenarios DHS identified for potential implementation, S&T cannot provide reasonable assurance that the technologies will effectively function as the Office of Policy Development and CBP intend to implement them.

If S&T determines that the container security technologies are mature enough to provide performance standards for these technologies to the Office of Policy Development and CBP, key steps and challenges remain before implementation can occur. These key steps involve:

1. obtaining support from the trade industry and international partners,
2. developing a concept of operations (CONOPS) detailing how the technologies are to be deployed, and
3. certifying the technologies for use.

The Office of Policy Development and CBP plan to take these steps if and when S&T provides performance standards. GAO recommends that DHS test and evaluate the container security technologies consistent with all the operational scenarios DHS identified for potential implementation. DHS concurred with our recommendation.

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