USPS, CBP share shipping data to track opioids

Data numbers binary 

A year into an effort to close a critical gap in international drug trafficking through the mail, the U.S. Postal Service is gaining some ground in sharing data on international shipments with Customs and Border Protection, according to a government watchdog study.

Despite that progress, the USPS still needs to step its efforts up to meet the requirements of the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act (STOP Act) signed into law in October 2018, according to a Government Accountability Office report issued Dec. 18.

USPS has lagged in its ability to provide CBP with advanced electronic data (AED) on incoming international shipments as part of an effort to track shipments of opioids including Fentanyl. China has been named by U.S. officials as top originator of international Fentanyl and illicit opioid shipments.

Independent commercial shippers, such as FedEx and DHL, implemented technology years ago that provides CBP with AED to sniff out potentially risky packages in their systems.

The STOP Act set goals for USPS to gather AED on international shipments from foreign shippers and transmit the data to CBP. Data elements include information on the sender, recipient, contents as well as an identifier number. CBP analyzes the data through its National Targeting Center to detect suspect shipments and requests USPS stop targeted packages for inspection.

Although USPS didn't meet requirements included in the STOP Act for transmitting the data, its transmission rates have generally increased from January 2019 through August 2019, according to the report. GAO said it didn't include specific goals and rates in its report because USPS considers the information to be sensitive.

A July report from USPS' own inspector general reached a similar conclusion about data transmission rates. That report said USPS "didn't always effectively fill" CBP's hold requests on inbound packages in 2018. It said, however, the "hold compliance rate" was slowly increasing -- to 88% of monitored mail in 2018, up from 79% in 2017 and 67% in 2016.

GAO's December report said factors outside USPS were part of the problem.

The STOP Act required the Department of Homeland Security to come up with regulations to clarify technical details on how USPS should transmit package data to CBP by Oct. 24. DHS, it said, “was still working through competing priorities” and hadn't finished drafting the regulations. Additionally some national postal services don't have the capability of transmitting AED.

GAO recommended DHS set up and implement a timeline to draft and complete its regulations.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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