GAO Warns Of Nuclear Smuggling From Mexico, Canada?

RTT News

Although significant efforts have been made in recent years to enhance border security in the United States, nuclear smuggling from Mexico and Canada might still be a problem if further changes are not instituted, a new report released in late July said.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office report, which was accompanied by testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security on July 26th, credited the Department of Homeland Security with making significant strides in border security since 2005.

“Over the past 10 years, DHS has made significant progress in deploying radiation detection equipment to scan for nuclear or radiological materials in nearly all trucks and containerized cargo coming into the United Stated through seaports and border crossings,” Homeland Security and Justice Director David C. Maurer said.

“However, challenges remain for the agency in developing a similar scanning capability for railcars entering this country from Canada and Mexico, as well as for international air cargo and international commercial aviation,” he added.

Every day, roughly 4,800 loaded railcars in approximately 120 trains enter the United States from Canada and Mexico through 31 rail ports of entry. The DHS has only made “limited progress” with railcar scanning technologies.

Likewise, international cargo methods are also lacking. Only major international airports have cargo scanners and in these, only a few planes are scanned per day because natural “choke points” where planes could automatically pass through scanners are not part of the airport layouts, the DHS told the GAO.

The DHS set up the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) office in 2005 to develop and deploy an integrated system of radiation detection equipment and interdiction activities to combat nuclear smuggling in foreign countries at the U.S. border and inside the United States.

But since then, the DNDO has not followed through on critical recommendations made by the GAO, specifically that the DHS and DNDO work with other departments to identify a comprehensive means of establishing priorities and using these priorities to allocate resources so that the greatest needs are being addressed.

“In both the GNDA [global nuclear detection architecture] strategic plan and the implementation plan, it remains difficult to identify priorities from among various components of the domestic part of the GNDA,” Maurer said.

He added, “DHS officials told us they agreed that the implementation plan did not yet articulate specific priorities for GNDA program areas with the greatest need for development and resources.”

On nuclear smuggling from Mexico and Canada, the solution to the problem requires more extensive coordination with our neighbors. Coordination programs, however, are pending following the release of a study to be completed in September.

The GAO report made three specific recommendations to the DHS to improve their GNDA program:

(1) The DHS should test new equipment rigorously prior to acquisition and deployment. A collaborative effort with the radiation detection agencies of the European Union is underway but will not be done until 2013.

(2) The DHS should obtain the full concurrence of the end user to ensure that new equipment meets operational needs. Decisions to rehabilitate or replace currently deployed radiation portal monitors at U.S. border need to be made with the full buy-in of the Customs Border Patrol agency – particularly if the decision involves new equipment or technologies.

(3) The DHS should conduct a cost-benefit analysis to inform any acquisition decisions. Such an analysis should articulate what enhanced performance could be expected of new equipment and whether this benefit is worth its cost.

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