Maritime Infrastructure: Public Ports Engage in an Extensive Range of Activities beyond Freight Movement

Coastal, Great Lakes, and inland ports are critical to the U.S. economy. Aside from moving freight, ports across the U.S. have a variety of non-freight activities—like cruise ship and ferry terminals, commercial fishing, recreation, and commercial and residential development. Ports engage in non-freight activities to diversify business, find new uses for underused facilities, and contribute to community development.

Federal grant programs we reviewed provided some support to ports for these activities, with the Department of Transportation providing most funding for freight and non-freight projects.

Public ports across the U.S. pursue an extensive range of activities unrelated to freight movement. Examples of such non-freight activities include cruise ship and ferry terminals, commercial fishing, recreation, and commercial and residential development. In a GAO survey of ports, 67 of the 80 respondents reported being involved in non-freight activities in the last 10 years, with most respondents having a mix of freight and non-freight activities. Port officials said they pursue non-freight activities to diversify lines of business, find new uses for underused facilities, and address unmet community development needs, among other reasons. Non-freight activities can also have economic impacts including creating jobs, according to port stakeholders and economic impact studies. For example, one study estimated that commercial fishing activity at the Port of Seattle accounted for 11,300 jobs and generated $1.4 billion in total business output in 2017. Ports most commonly reported funding their non-freight activities with port revenues (55 survey respondents) or state funds (53 survey respondents).

Federal grant programs GAO reviewed have provided some funding to ports for non-freight projects but have largely focused on freight. According to GAO's analysis of federal grant award data for fiscal years 2010 through 2020, agencies provided at least $141 million to ports for non-freight projects during this time, or about 8 percent of the almost $1.9 billion in total funding these programs awarded to ports, in fiscal year 2020 dollars. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) provided the majority of funding to ports for both freight and non-freight projects. DOT-funded non-freight projects include ferry-, cruise-, and fishing-related projects, among others. Stakeholders reported that ports, especially small ports, face challenges with federal grant programs. For example, stakeholders and federal officials said that many grant programs GAO reviewed are consistently oversubscribed and that smaller ports may lack the resources to develop a competitive application. Stakeholders GAO spoke with differed on the need for additional federal funding for non-freight activities.

The nation's coastal, Great Lakes, and inland ports have long been recognized as critical to the national and local economies. Ports can contribute not only by moving freight but also, for example, through activities related to tourism, transportation, or real estate. Nationwide port studies have typically focused on the impact of freight, and less attention has been paid to these non-freight activities.

House Report 116-452 included a provision for GAO to examine ports' non-freight activities. This GAO report describes (1) what is known about the nature of and funding for non-freight activities at public ports, and (2) the extent to which federal discretionary grant programs have provided funds to public ports for non-freight and freight projects, and stakeholders' views on this federal assistance.

To address the two objectives above, GAO conducted a non-generalizable survey of 80 ports and interviewed officials at 15 ports and 14 port industry stakeholders. GAO selected ports for variety based on their level of non-freight activity, freight traffic, and location, and whether they have applied for DOT funding. GAO also interviewed officials within DOT; the Departments of Commerce (Commerce), Defense, and Homeland Security; and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

GAO’s publish survey about facial recognition technology (FRT) activities

Facial recognition—a type of biometric technology—mimics how people identify or verify others by examining their faces. Recent advancements have increased the accuracy of automated FRT resulting in increased use across a range of applications. As the use of FRT continues to expand, it has become increasingly important to understand its use across the federal government in a comprehensive way.

GAO was asked to review the extent of FRT use across the federal government. This report identifies and describes (1) how agencies used FRT in fiscal year 2020, including any related research and development and interactions with non-federal entities, and (2) how agencies plan to expand their use of FRT through fiscal year 2023.

GAO surveyed the 24 agencies of the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, as amended, regarding their use of facial recognition technology. GAO also interviewed agency officials and reviewed documents, such as system descriptions, and information provided by agencies that reported using the technology.

Recent advancements in facial recognition technology have increased its accuracy and its usage. Our earlier work has included examinations of its use by federal law enforcement, at ports of entry, and in commercial settings.

For this report, the GOA surveyed 24 federal agencies about their use of this technology.

- 16 reported using it for digital access or cybersecurity, such as allowing employees to unlock agency smartphones with it
- 6 reported using it to generate leads in criminal investigations
- 5 reported using it for physical security, such as controlling access to a building or facility
- 10 said they planned to expand its use

In response to GAO's survey about facial recognition technology (FRT) activities in fiscal year 2020, 18 of the 24 surveyed agencies reported using an FRT system, for one or more purposes, including:

Digital access or cybersecurity. Sixteen agencies reported using FRT for digital access or cybersecurity purposes. Of these, 14 agencies authorized personnel to use FRT to unlock their agency-issued smartphones—the most common purpose of FRT reported. Two agencies also reported testing FRT to verify identities of persons accessing government websites.

Domestic law enforcement. Six agencies reported using FRT to generate leads in criminal investigations, such as identifying a person of interest, by comparing their image against mugshots. In some cases, agencies identify crime victims, such as exploited children, by using commercial systems that compare against publicly available images, such as from social media.

Physical security. Five agencies reported using FRT to monitor or surveil locations to determine if an individual is present, such as someone on a watchlist, or to control access to a building or facility. For example, an agency used it to monitor live video for persons on watchlists and to alert security personnel to these persons without needing to memorize them.

Ten agencies reported FRT-related research and development. For example, agencies reported researching FRT's ability to identify individuals wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and to detect image manipulation.

Furthermore, ten agencies reported plans to expand their use of FRT through fiscal year 2023. For example, an agency plans to pilot the use of FRT to automate the identity verification process at airports for travelers.

Agencies Should Strengthen Collaborative Mechanisms and Processes to Address Potential Interference

In the U.S., the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration regulate radio-frequency spectrum use to ensure enough is available for 5G networks, satellites, etc. when there could be interference, FCC and NTIA coordinate with other federal agencies via interagency agreements and groups.
To address potential interference among proposed uses of spectrum, these agencies employ various coordination mechanisms. For domestic matters, the agencies coordinate through an NTIA-led committee that provides input to FCC’s spectrum proceedings. For U.S. participation in the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC), agencies coordinate via a preparatory committee that provides input used to develop U.S. positions that the Department of State submits to a regional body or directly to the WRC.
These mechanisms reflect some key collaboration practices but do not fully reflect others. For example, while the documents that guide coordination between FCC and NTIA and the preparatory committee emphasize reaching consensus whenever possible, there are no clearly defined and agreed-upon processes for resolving matters when agencies cannot do so. Additionally, neither document has been updated in almost 20 years, though agency officials said conditions regarding spectrum management activities have changed in that time. GAO’s review of U.S. participation in ITU’s 2019 WRC shows that these issues affected collaboration. For example, disputes among the agencies and the inability to reach agreement on U.S. technical contributions challenged the U.S.’s ability to present an agreed-upon basis for decisions or a unified position.
NOAA and NASA conduct and FCC and NTIA review technical interference studies on a case-by-case basis. When originating from ITU activities, the agencies conduct or review technical interference studies through participation in international technical meetings and the preparatory committee process. However, the lack of consensus on study design and, within the U.S. process, specific procedures to guide the design of these types of studies, hampered U.S. efforts to prepare for the 2019 WRC. For example, the U.S. did not submit its studies on certain key issues to the final technical meeting, resulting in some stakeholders questioning whether the corresponding U.S. positions were technically rooted. Agreed-upon procedures could help guide U.S. efforts to design these studies and consider tradeoffs between what is desirable versus practical, to mitigate the possibility of protracted disagreements in the future.