Marine Transportation System

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


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