Friday, September 9, 2011

GAO Report on Maritime Security Recommends Improvements by Coast Guard and FBI

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued in late August found that even though there have been improvements to maritime security by the Coast Guard and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), more improvements are needed to prepare for a terrorist attack. A 2007 GAO report recommended that the Coast Guard and FBI address challenges in protecting energy tankers and implement response plans in the event of a disruption to the maritime transportation system.

There have been improvements since the 2007 recommendations. Spill and terrorism response plans have been put in place in a number of localities over the past four years. In addition, the Coast Guard has been working on a national strategy to reduce maritime security risks of dangerous cargo. The plan is set to be completed next year.

However, the GAO report found that the Coast Guard and FBI have not developed an operational plan to integrate a national spill response plan with a terrorism response plan. According to the report, "Al-Qa'ida and other groups with malevolent intent continue to target energy tankers and offshore energy infrastructure because of their importance to the nation's economy and national security." Currently, the National Response Framework, which is the United States' plan for numerous emergency scenarios, has separate sections for spills and terrorism responses.

The Coast Guard says the framework is being revised and a decision has not been made about integrating the spill and terrorism response sections. In addition, the Coast Guard faces challenges in its ability to assess security risks, as it does not have complete data on what level of attack maritime facilities could withstand or what secondary economic impacts could occur in the event there is damage to Outer Continental Shelf facilities. As of May 2011, the Coast Guard had not completed security risk assessments for 12 of the 50 security-regulated Outer Continental Shelf facilities.

Therefore, the GAO report also recommended that the Coast Guard review its policies and ensure that its analysts receive an annual updated list of regulated offshore energy facilities to ensure that risk assessments are completed on all of these facilities. The Coast Guard agreed with GAO's conclusion.

At an Aug. 24 subcommittee hearing in Houston, Rep. William Keating (D-Mass.) said, "Even though I am concerned about maritime security, each and every American should be concerned about the security of this Houston port. Any major stoppage in that, any interruptions, will affect them drastically in all their economic endeavors and cripple our country."