Truckers who should have had their eligibility revoked for expedited clearance through Customs and Border Protection land ports of entry in fact continued to participate in the Free and Secure Trade program, says the Homeland Security Department office of inspector general.
In a report (.pdf) dated May 21, auditors say the program, known as FAST, is supposed to vet drivers every 24 hours by checking whether their name shows on databases that would indicate they’re no longer low-risk individuals.
DHS set up FAST as a way of upholding efficient cross-border trade while also permitting CBP to train its resources on unknown border crossers. FAST drivers must pass a security check every 5 years, but CBP also runs participants’ names through databases daily.
Despite the daily database checking, however, a sample of 136 of the 235 applications denied for renewal in fiscal 2010 showed that at least 30 were turned down for offenses committed up to 5 years earlier–i.e., at the initial point of application, auditors say.
Five drivers denied at renewal had “close links to drug smugglers or were suspected drug smugglers,” including one driver listed in the TECS database as a broker of drug shipments between the United States and Canada. TECS, which used to stand for Treasury Enforcement and Communication System, is a law enforcement and antiterrorism database, principally owned and managed by CBP. It also is one of the databases CBP checks daily, but drivers’ status as a known drug broker “was not part of the continuous vetting process,” auditors say.
CBP is also hampered in its ability to ensure that Mexican participants in FAST are indeed low risk because it and Mexico have not set up an information sharing program that allows CBP to know of offenses committed in Mexico, auditors say.
Although the United States and Mexico have an arrangement “for cooperating to the maximum extent possible,” FAST is not a joint program with Mexico the way it is between Canada and the United States.
For FAST permits along the southwestern border, vetting and continuous monitoring of FAST drivers is done exclusively by CBP, auditors add.
In its official response to the audit, CBP said it will approach Mexican officials, although to discuss exactly what is unknown, since that part of the audit is redacted.