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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

OIG: CBP’s Management of International Mail Facilities Puts Officer Safety and Mission Requirements at Risk

CBP paid a total of $1.7 million for unusable space at the Newark IMF from 2017 through 2023 and nearly $1.6 million for unusable space at the Honolulu IMF from 2014 through 2023.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not effectively manage International Mail Facility (IMF) operations, an Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit has found.

CBP plays a critical role in safeguarding the American public by interdicting illegal drugs entering the United States, including through international mail, but OIG found that CBP did not ensure prompt resolution of serious issues, including critical maintenance and life safety deficiencies, at six IMFs. 

Between October 2020 and July 2021, CBP hired a contractor to assess eight IMFs and prepare facility assessment reports. In the reports, the contractor rated six of eight IMFs as being in critical condition, described 70 deficiencies in total at the IMFs, and designated 11 of the 70 deficiencies as “critical or life safety” deficiencies. For example, the contractor identified two “critical or life safety” deficiencies at IMFs that had electrical and mechanical rooms that were not fully fire resistant or did not have fire resistant doors, while another IMF did not have required fire alarms at an exit door. At the time of OIG’s inspection, two of the 11 serious deficiencies had been addressed.

OIG said deficiencies occurred because CBP’s Office of Facilities and Asset Management (OFAM) did not prioritize resolving and monitoring issues at the IMFs, which may have jeopardized officer safety. 

Additionally, the audit found that CBP paid for unusable space at two IMFs. CBP paid a total of $1.7 million for unusable space at the Newark IMF from 2017 through 2023 and nearly $1.6 million for unusable space at the Honolulu IMF from 2014 through 2023. 

During a visit to the Newark IMF, inspectors observed that 46 percent of CBP’s lease space was filled with unused conveyor belts making the space unusable for CBP’s operations, such as screening mail. A supervisory CBP officer said CBP has not used the conveyor belts since 2016 due to a change in its operations. Inspectors observed layers of dust, rodent droppings and traps, and packages postmarked from 2020 on the belts. Both regional and headquarters OFAM officials were unaware of the unused space at Newark. 

At the Honolulu IMF, inspectors observed that 42 percent of the space designated for screening mail was occupied by inoperable conveyor belts. In 2019, at CBP’s request, the General Services Administration (GSA) identified the belts were inoperable and had been since 2013 and requested that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) remove the belts. Although regional OFAM and GSA officials were aware that USPS would not remove the belts, CBP continued to pay rent for the unused space and renegotiated its space agreements on three occasions after its 2019 letter.

Finally, OIG found that the San Juan IMF had a lapsed space agreement and operated out of temporary locations for more than six years, including a period of time when it operated out of a parking lot. From August 2021 through December 2022, San Juan field office leadership reported that officers conducted minimal screening of packages received in San Juan because the facility did not have sufficient space or a vault for CBP officers to detain mail onsite.

OIG has made three recommendations to CBP:

  • Evaluate all International Mail Facility space agreements to identify unusable space for future cost savings and revise agreements with unusable space.
  • Evaluate IMFs and lease agreements and take actions to ensure safety and the ability to meet screening requirements. 
  • Develop and implement a process for escalating and effectively resolving local and regional facility issues. 

CBP concurred with all three recommendations and said OFAM will collaborate with stakeholders to develop a formal policy to evaluate, report, and mitigate local and regional facility issues by November 30, 2023. The agency will work to address the first two recommendations by October 31, 2024.

Read the full report at OIG

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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