U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not always ensure only low-risk drivers participate in its Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) says.
As a Trusted Traveler Program, CBP established the FAST program to expedite processing for carriers and drivers pre-approved as low risk to enhance trade and safeguard against border security risks.
According to CBP’s policy, CBP vets drivers using a point-based standard and must resolve all disqualifying factors prior to approving applicants. However, an OIG audit found that CBP approved 45 of 368 (12 percent) drivers active during fiscal year 2019 with potentially disqualifying records who may not be considered low risk. CBP approved these drivers when it did not accurately apply standards or resolve all disqualifying factors. The watchdog determined that this occurred because CBP’s policies do not provide adequate guidance or procedures, which allows potentially high-risk drivers into the program increasing border security risks.
For 30 of the 45 ineligible drivers, CBP did not resolve all disqualifying factors before approving drivers for participation in the program. CBP agreed with OIG that 18 of the 30 drivers were ineligible and revoked the drivers’ FAST program membership. Although CBP did not agree with OIG’s determination that the remaining 12 drivers were ineligible for the program, officials took the following mitigating actions:
For six drivers, CBP entered an interdiction record to alert CBP officers at POEs to obtain additional information necessary to ascertain the drivers’ eligibility. CBP was unable to support the drivers’ eligibility and OIG considers these drivers ineligible until CBP resolves the outstanding violations.
For four drivers, CBP accessed systems available to the vetters to obtain additional information to support the drivers’ eligibility. However, OIG was unable to ascertain if or when the vetter reviewed the information because the vetter did not document it in the drivers’ files.
The remaining two drivers were not commercial conveyance drivers at the time of application. CBP officials stated it is not a requirement to be a commercial driver at the time of application or interview. However, FAST eligibility criteria require the applicants to be driving a commercial conveyance. One of the drivers became a commercial conveyance operator after application approval and OIG found that CBP kept the driver in the program. The remaining driver had not used the FAST card and CBP subsequently revoked the driver’s membership.
OIG’s audit also revealed that CBP approved an additional 301 of 368 drivers, 82 percent, active during FY 2019, with potentially disqualifying records without fully assessing their risk. Here, CBP was often unable to obtain the required information for non-U.S. citizen FAST drivers, allowing potentially ineligible drivers into the program and exposing CBP to increased risk of compromised border security.
The FAST program is intended to grant low-risk commercial drivers expedited processing so CBP can direct further scrutiny to potentially higher risk drivers and shipments arriving at ports of entry. However, OIG is concerned that because CBP does not assess the program’s impact on border security risk, reliance on FAST drivers may increase risk and compromise border security. The watchdog warns that without an effective means to evaluate the program’s impact on border security, CBP may be exposing its land ports of entry to heightened threats.
Based on OIG’s sample of 368 out of 8,859 FAST drivers active during FY 2019, there could be 1,08410 ineligible drivers participating in the program and increasing border security risk. The watchdog has therefore issued four recommendations to address the shortcomings:
- Update the Consolidated Trusted Traveler Program Handbook (Revised April 2016) to include clear guidance for applying points to FAST vetting standard violations; requirement for vetters and Enrollment Center officers to document FAST applicant point assessments; and procedures to ensure officers fully resolve all FAST vetting standard violations identified in an applicant’s risk assessment worksheet.
- Require CBP officers to update the comments in the Global Enrollment System for the identified ineligible drivers with unresolved disqualifying issues to address its impact on the driver’s eligibility or revoke the drivers’ participation in FAST.
- Complete a risk analysis for FAST to determine if the risk of not having full access is acceptable to CBP. Once the analysis is complete, either accept or mitigate the risks associated with Mexican and Canadian active drivers and FAST applicants. If unable to mitigate the risk to an acceptable level, revoke the status of non-U.S. drivers in FAST.
- Develop and implement a method to assess the effect of FAST on border security risk to ensure the program meets its intent.
CBP concurred with all four recommendations. It intends to complete work to meet the first recommendation by October 31, 2022. The agency expects to complete work to address the other recommendations by April 29, 2022.