GAO: Global ports need security overhaul

Security is spotty throughout the global port system supply chain and requires better coordination, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.

GAO said its investigators observed a variety of levels of security at foreign ports they visited, with some ports deploying cameras, fences, guards and identification checks. At one major facility, guards aggressively checked identification, while at another there were holes in the perimeter fences and guards only checked identification if called to do so, the report noted.

Without a stronger global compliance scheme there is a risk of terrorist infiltration and attack on oil tankers and other major cargo shipments at global ports, the report said. The International Maritime Organization has established security standards for ports, but compliance is voluntary.

"International Maritime Organization officials told us they have no way of knowing if a country's port facilities are truly in compliance," the report said. "Without third party compliance review, it is extremely difficult to determine if ports are secure against terrorism."

Vessel operators told GAO investigators they use private databases to determine whether a port is secure. The databases included observations from various vessel operators.

In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard has implemented its International Port Security Program in which personnel regularly visit global ports to observe security conditions. But there are challenges in operating the program effectively because the visits must be negotiated with the host governments, the GAO said.

Securing global transportation continues to be a lucrative area for federal contractors. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, Coast Guard and other federal agencies have initiated a number of programs to improve global supply chain security.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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