Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General – DHS’ Strategy and Plans to Counter Small Vessel Threats Need Improvement

Executive Summary

A small vessel, such as a commercial fishing vessel or recreational boat, can be used as a waterborne improvised explosive device, as a platform for conducting an attack, or to smuggle weapons or terrorists into the United States. Recognizing the threat, in mid2006, the Department of Homeland Security initiated a working group to develop a small vessel security national strategy. In April 2008, the department published the Small Vessel Security Strategy to address these potential threats. The department is also developing an Implementation Plan, which is intended to provide direction to federal, state, and local agencies on achieving the major goals outlined in the Strategy. We reviewed the Small Vessel Security Strategy and the draft Implementation Plan to determine whether the department has developed a comprehensive approach for securing our ports, waterways, and maritime borders from small vessel threats.

Overall, the department has made progress, but more remains to be done to provide effective guidance and operate effective programs to address small vessel threats. The Strategy addresses two desirable characteristics of an effective national strategy as it defines the problem, and uses risk assessments to analyze the threats. However, the Strategy only partially addresses the remaining four characteristics. It partially addresses elements such as strategic priorities and milestones, and roles and responsibilities of state and local sectors, but it does not address performance measures, associated costs or human capital, or accountability and oversight frameworks.

Additionally, critical programs intended to support small vessel security may not be operating effectively. Although the department recognizes the need to raise public awareness and take action to mitigate the risk of small vessel threats, its approach was hindered because its components are not fully integrated. As a result, the nation’s ports, waterways, and maritime borders remain vulnerable to small vessel threats. The department partially concurred with our recommendation that it address the missing elements in its strategy. The department nonconcurred with our recommendation that it evaluate the effectiveness of the programs it intends to use to meet the strategy’s goals.