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Many challenges remain when it comes to 100-percent ocean container scanning

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
August 04, 2010

Following recently-introduced port security legislation by Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), which has myriad goals and objectives to strengthen security at U.S. ports, and ensure adequate resources exist to secure U.S. port facilities, other politicians are making their voices heard when it comes to a key component of this—and previous port security legislation—ocean container scanning.

In 2007, Congress required 100 percent scanning of all ocean borne cargo containers before entering the U.S. But in 2009, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee that 100 percent scanning of inbound ocean containers will not meet the 2012 deadline.

The impetus for cargo scanning was put forth when former President George W. Bush signed “H.R. 1 Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007” into law in August 2007. The bill calls for the 100-percent scanning of maritime cargo before it’s loaded onto vessels heading for the United States to be required by 2012.

In the Rockefeller-Hutchison bill, The Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2010, language in the bill extends the requirement that 100 percent of U.S.-bound cargo containers be scanned using either non-intrusive imaging or radiation equipment to 2015, three years past the original deadline put forth in H.R. 1.

Industry stakeholders have long maintained that the 2012 deadline was too ambitious to be met, citing a lack of proven and sophisticated technology.

“CBP, the trade community, and virtually all foreign governments agree that 100 percent scanning of containers coming in to the U.S. is a bad idea,” said Kelby Woodward, principal of cargo security firm Trade Innovations. “The technology is expensive and
unproven, the volumes are prohibitive, and the global infrastructure (not to mention the political will) is inadequate to implement such an ambitious goal.  Most importantly, it would create a dangerous false sense of security.  The layering of risk based and flexible methods like CSI, C-TPAT, and ISF are the most effective way to address the very real and ever-changing risks within the global supply chain.”

Woodward’s concerns regarding 100 percent container scanning were echoed by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Patty Murray (D-WA) in their recently-introduced legislation, The SAFE Port Reauthorization Act of 2010.

In this wide-ranging bill, which focuses on various aspects of port security such as extending port security grants, reauthorizing the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), and expanding the America’s Waterway Watch Program, among others, the Senators also address what they described as the difficulties in administering the mandate of x-raying and scanning for radiation all cargo containers overseas that are destined for the U.S. by 2012.

“That technology is not yet perfected,” said Collins and Murray. “The bill would eliminate the deadline for x-raying 100 percent of containers if the Secretary of Homeland Security certifies the effectiveness of individual security measures of that layered security approach. This is a more reasonable method to secure our cargo until a new method of x-raying containers is proven effective.”

Putting off the deadline is not well-received by a trio of Congressmen—Bennie G. Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Edward J. Markey, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment and the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

In a letter to DHS Secretary Napolitano, the Congressmen expressed their concerns over DHS’ lack of progress in implementing the 100 percent cargo scanning requirement mandated in H.R. 1. They told Napolitano they are disappointed that DHS is not attempting to meet the 2012 deadline and is instead focused on seeking to extend the deadline for all ports worldwide without developing a plan to implement the scanning requirement.

And they noted that while H.R. 1 contained language that allowed for extensions of the 2012 deadline if certain conditions—including container scanning systems are not available for purchase and installation, have a low false alarm rate for use in the supply chain, and cannot be integrated with existing systems, among others—occurred, extensions would be granted to accommodate delays in meeting the 2012 deadline at specific ports due to specific challenges, rather than seek an indefinite extension for all ports in the absence of meaningful efforts to amend the law.

“While we understand that implementation challenges exist, we are troubled by the Department’s apparent intent to grant all ports a…delay for implementation, without presenting a concomitant plan of action to ensure that the mandate is fully or partially achieved at any port in the world by 2012,” said the Congressmen. “For the last three years, we have waited for DHS to take concrete steps to implement this provision, or alternatively to propose legislation to amend the law. Neither has happened. Therefore, we remain concerned about the significant homeland security risk to our Nation as a result of the Department’s continued inability to articulate a path forward in this important area.”

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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