The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) hasn’t assessed if the drug type categories in its data systems adequately reflect the drug smuggling scenarios that officers and agents confront. GAO’s review also found outdated training modules.
CBP officers and agents follow a multi-step process when seizing drugs. This process includes collecting seizure data such as the drug type and concealment method in CBP data systems. CBP officials have several mechanisms to perform quality assurance efforts on drug seizure records. For example, they conduct supervisory reviews of the records for accuracy before they are finalized. CBP intelligence entities—such as field targeting and intelligence units—review seizure data in CBP data systems on a daily basis to inform their drug interdiction efforts, target drug smugglers, and monitor drug seizure trends. GAO found that the number of CBP drug seizures increased from about 65,000 in fiscal year 2016 to 99,000 in fiscal year 2021.
While CBP has various fields in its data systems for recording, analyzing, and using data on drug seizures, GAO found it has not assessed its categories for drug type to determine if they are useful for targeting and intelligence. For example, GAO found that 23 percent of total drug seizures from fiscal years 2016 through 2021 were classified in a catchall drug type category— Other drugs, prescriptions, and chemicals. CBP intelligence officials GAO spoke with who use and analyze drug seizure data stated that they have some concerns with the drug type categories available—particularly this catchall category—because the lack of specificity requires additional research, such as text searches.
GAO’s performance audit was conducted from February 2021 through May 2022. Previously, a 2021 report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) on seizures from international mail inspected at the John F. Kennedy International Airport raised questions about CBP’s process for recording drug seizures in its data systems. The OIG review found the deficiencies were largely due to inadequate resources and guidance.
GAO has recommended that CBP assess the drug type categories available in its data systems to determine if they adequately reflect the drug smuggling scenarios encountered by officers and agents. CBP agreed and said it will plan to update the data systems, as appropriate.
GAO’s review also looked at training. Office of Field Operations (OFO) officers GAO spoke with at three of the seven ports of entry identified benefits of academy training, including learning from seasoned instructors and gaining a foundation on drug seizure processing. However, OFO officers at six of the seven ports of entry identified challenges with academy training, including insufficient training on drug seizure processing steps.
All of the CBP field officials GAO spoke with mentioned the importance of on-the-job training to learn drug seizure processing and recordation. OFO officers identified additional benefits, such as shadowing senior officers.
While CBP officers and agents are trained on the process for recording drug seizures during their academy and post-academy programs, GAO found that CBP has not evaluated its post-academy drug seizure training. Specifically, OFO and U.S. Border Patrol have not evaluated them since they implemented them in 2011 and 2006, respectively.
GAO found that OFO’s Post-Academy Program drug seizures training module is outdated. For example, one of the three learning objectives is focused on how to document a seizure. However, the training materials provide instructions on a system that is no longer in use and do not mention the modernized SEACATS, which CBP has been using to record drug seizures since May 2018. OFO and Office of Training and Development officials told GAO that as of February 2022 they are in the process of updating the program and estimated they would complete the update in fiscal year 2022. This revision will include a plan to regularly evaluate the drug seizures portions of the program.