Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘CBP’

One Hundred Percent Security

In Congress, Federal Government, Ports, Security on July 23, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Not even Ivory Soap is 100 percent.  It may float but, as the once ubiquitous slogan puts it, Ivory doesn’t do better than “99 and 44/100 percent pure!”

So if the blue chip labs of Proctor & Gamble can’t deliver a simple matter of 100 percent pure soap why should anyone think it’s possible to implement 100 percent cargo scanning before the boxes hit our shore?  …Or think 100 percent secure U.S. coastlines is possible. Okay, sure, that last one sounds a bit silly but we’re dealing in facts here.

In the months following the attacks of September 11 former Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS) insisted that America could be completely secured along the over 12,000 miles of seacoast. A tight seal that would catch whomever and whatever might dare to sneak into our collective nightmare.  He persisted, earnestly, in pressing that point to a hearing witness, a retired Coast Guard rear admiral who found it hard to believe the congressman was serious.

In more recent years the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has struggled with that kind of no-exceptions, no-excuses expectation. The sort that has plagued the TSA for much of its existence. Congress directed the U.S. agencies to go forth and have image and radiation scanning equipment installed in every overseas port that exports containerized cargo to the U.S. We don’t want terrorists to view our ports as easy gateways for nuclear weapons guised as consumer goods.

One result of al-Qaeda proving the nation’s vulnerability was an almost immediate national awareness of our seaport system. Open doors in the global village. America had security in place at airports–tragically loopholed as it was–while at our ports the Federal agencies were on the lookout mostly for contraband, plant disease, and the occasional stowaway. Flood-lit attention quickly zeroed in on the seaports and land borders. Persons such as Stephen Flynn filled the vacuum as government and news agencies required expert testimony and quotable expressions of alarm.

The policy response was understandable. New laws, quickly crafted regulations, and a flood tide of security personnel. A new department was created when small-government Republicans largely dominated in Washington.

By 2007 two maritime security laws had been enacted and a considerable security regime was in place in our harbors, on cargo ships and in the supply chain. Countries and companies trading with the U.S. were told to meet our terms. Hundreds of millions of grant dollars were spent to harden security in large and small ports. (Over $2,000,000,000 for port security grants since then.) Funding also was provided for three pilot tests of 100 percent scanning  in overseas ports. Then Congress upped the ante.

A new “full-scale implementation” requirement was put in place to deny entry to cargo containers unless they were “scanned by unobtrusive imaging equipment and radiation detection equipment at a foreign port before it was loaded on a vessel.” The shipping/logistics industry explained why that wasn’t good policy or particularly feasible. Nevertheless a deadline of July 2012 was set for 100 percent scanning along with authority for the Secretary of Homeland Security to extend the deadline as necessary.

Not surprisingly, in June Secretary Napolitano reported to Congress that the deadline would not be met and has pushed out the compliance date to July 2014.  Months before, the GAO gave testimony on the state of containerized cargo security.  It is a readable statement about the layered, risk-based security regime that is in place and the challenges the government has experienced both here and abroad in securing the country against smuggled nuclear devices.

The legislators stand 100 percent behind their 100 percent requirement. In an op-ed piece three House Members acknowledge that the original deadline was ambitious but want to keep the pressure on an executive branch they doubt wants to see full-scale implementation. “Cost and technology have never been the primary obstacles to meeting this mandate. What is missing is a sense of urgency and determination.” Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) said in a Washington Post story, “I personally do not believe they intend to comply with the law…. This is a real terrorist threat, and it has a solution. We can’t afford to wait until a catastrophic attack.”

Don’t expect this issue to be resolved anytime soon. Few in Congress will go on record to remove the requirement.

Should we expect–even want–100 percent security at any cost? In a global supply chain so extensive and complex is absolute security possible? Ask voters if they are willing to be subjected to metal detectors and armed guards at their local Loews Cinema after what just happened in Aurora. Where will the next troubled mind chose to bear arms?  At the Harris Teeter meat counter?

In 2002 I met with the fellow who headed the transportation branch at the Office of Management and Budget. He and his colleagues were struggling with the budgetary response to September 11. They faced the practical questions of what can be afforded even when we had horrific cause to be generous with tax dollars–and indeed, the money flowed–and whether unlimited spending could really make the nation secure. How do we determine risk in order to set priorities? Could money buy the “full-scale” securing of the American transportation system? How does one make a public transit system 100 percent secure?

Go to the Ivory Soap website–actually a Facebook page–and you see this absurdly-reassuring corporate statement that could be a Madison Avenue rewrite of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. “Ivory provides freedom from nonsense and complexity by giving you everything you need and nothing you don’t.”

Just don’t look for 100 percent.   Pbea

Is Security Going Overboard?

In Federal Government, Security on November 15, 2010 at 10:01 am

With this piece on transportation security we introduce Richard Biter, a new addition to our contributors.  Rich’s many years at the U.S. Department of Transportation gave him a ring-side seat to, among other things, the rise and demise of the Office of Intermodalism and the creation of the Transportation Security Administration…before the Department of Homeland Security was hatched.  Like most of us who shuffle through Federal airport security, Rich has some thoughts to share.


I’ve been reading with alarming interest how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and it’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have been instituting new airport security measures which include “naked” body scanners (approximately 350 are in place now with an estimated 1,000 by the end of 2011) combined with aggressive and personally intrusive “pat-downs” for those that opt out of being scanned or otherwise chosen at random.  These new procedures are inciting major a backlash from the both the traveling masses and the rare coalition of air travel related organizations that represent travelers, unions and business.

While I could get into a whole litany of issues I have with DHS/TSA airline/airport security, here’s just one example of where the kids have taken over school: A pilot for ExpressJet Airlines, recently refused to undergo a full-body scan at Memphis International Airport in Memphis, TN.  The pilot later stated “I was trying to avoid this assault on my person, and I’m not willing to have images of my nude body produced for some stranger in another room to look at either.”  TSA’s response was that “security is not optional” and any person who refuses security screening is not allowed to fly.

Now let’s think about that for a second…here we subject pilots to rigorous, indeed onerous, security checks to prevent them from bringing any weapons onto an aircraft, only to allow those very same pilots to climb into a locked and secured cockpit. From there they can fly their passenger laden planes most anywhere  a tank of fuel can take them.  Frankly, if a pilot wants to fly into a building or the ground there is no way to stop him/her.  Yeah, yeah, yeah…there’s the argument that a pilot could sneak a gun in and give it to someone else on another flight.  And the gun-toting security guys/gals already behind the security barriers can’t do the same thing?  Where’s the adult-in-charge that can bring some commonsense reasoning into this process who can say “Wait a minute people…at some point we have to establish a level of trust into the system and we should start with the flight crew.”

Now here’s another point to ponder.  We all saw and heard about the plight of the people on the Carnival cruise ship Splendor which was crippled for three days at sea after an engine fire.  But did you know that even though it never docked at a foreign port, DHS’s Custom and Border Protection still ran a check of the passenger manifest before it was towed back to San Diego, CA?  Under what authority allows them to do that?  Followed to its logical extension, will marine highway operators and recreational boaters, e.g. deep-sea fishing, at some point be required to submit to inspection or file a passenger manifest with DHS even though they never dock at a foreign port?  Hmmmm.

Richard Biter

What Industry Knew and Congress Didn’t Want to Hear

In Security on December 4, 2009 at 1:18 am

A General Accountability Office (GAO) report and the testimony of the Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security were the centerpiece of a Senate hearing on transportation security two days ago.  The report covered several issues but one was of particular interest:  How well Customs and Border Protection is implementing a congressional mandate to scan 100 percent of US-bound containers.  According to GAO –

CBP has not developed a plan to scan 100 percent of U.S.-bound container cargo by 2012, but has a strategy to expand [Secure Freight Initiative] to select ports where it will mitigate the greatest risk of WMD entering the United States. CBP does not have a plan to scan cargo containers at all ports because, according to agency officials, challenges encountered thus far in implementing SFI indicate that doing so worldwide will be difficult to achieve.    ….   Recognizing that its strategy will not meet the requirement to scan all U.S.-bound cargo containers, DHS plans to issue a blanket extension to all foreign ports by July 2012 to be in compliance with the 9/11 Act.

Secretary Napolitano’s testimony spoke to the “challenges” in meeting the 100 percent mandate.  “Certain challenges are logistical….  there are multiple points of entry, and cargo is “transshipped”….  ports are not configured to put in place detection equipment….   limitations inherent in available technology….  the absence of technology [to] automatically detect suspicious anomalies within cargo containers….  x-ray systems have limited penetration capability….  currently unworkable without seriously hindering the flow of shipments or redesigning the ports themselves, which would require huge capital investment.

“While DHS is pursuing technological solutions to these problems, expanding screening with available technology would slow the flow of commerce and drive up costs to
consumers without bringing significant security benefits,” the Secretary said.

As Bob Edmonson of the Journal of Commerce reported,  Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) acknowledged that, “I don’t think we have any choice.”  “I don’t want to do it, but it’s something that can’t realistically, and in some ways responsibly, be done — and in some cases does not need to be done.”

Most if not all of the challenges reported by Secretary Napolitano are pretty much what ports and the logistics community told the legislators back in 2006/2007.   But Democrats, mostly, prevailed in making the issue of 100 percent scanning of imported cargo second only to the DP World fiasco as the most familiar port issue in American households.

Either the wisdom that comes from the passing of time, or the change of administration, appears to be helping legislators comprehend what Napolitano’s Republican predecessor and the trade logistics community tried to explain back then.    Pbea

Walking the Dock and Talking the Talk

In Federal Government on August 16, 2009 at 9:19 pm

CMTS group

This week Federal agency folks caught the bus to Baltimore to see a port.   It was organized by Helen Brohl and staff of  the Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS) and facilitated by Frank Hamons and colleagues of the Maryland Port Administration.  The civil servants from NTSB, ITA, OMB, MARAD, NOAA, USACE, USCG, EPA and  perhaps other offices and agencies left Washington to see elments of the MTS first hand.

Terminal operations, a NOAA survey vessel, a Ready Reserve Force ship, an intermodal yard, and a tugboat tour of the cargo and quiche sides of the waterfront.   They met with public and private sector people who keep the working port working.

From time to time one reads complaints about taxpayer money spent on public employee field trips and conference-going…as if it’s always a pleasure jaunt and never of professional value.  I’m sure that this same-day hop, just an hour up the parkway, will spark no such carping.  But that’s beside the point.  It’s a fact that trips like this one  to  the Maryland port instill more understanding than does the reading of a report.  Even one with lots of pictures.   When one is in the field the senses absorb.  The mind muses.   The discussion flows.

Washington is paying much more attention than ever to ports, shipping, and our system of logistics.   EPA regulates ballast water.   The Corps maintains channels.  TSA checks dock worker backgrounds.  NOAA decides when the dredges can work.  OSHA sets new container lift standards.   The Senate ratifies standards to lower ship emissions.  CBP scans cargo for radiation.   OMB reviews regs and budgets.  Fees are collected and new fee proposals abound.

Taking one day to take in the context for all of the above is a day and money well spent.  Kudos to CMTS and the folks in the picture.   Pbea

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.