Bush Signs Maritime, Air Cargo Inspection Bill

WASHINGTON—In a decision that will have a major impact on how cargo moves through the global supply chain, President George W. Bush officially signed into law “H.R. 1 Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007” earlier this month. This bill, which was signed off on by the United States Senate and House of Representatives in late July, is expected to significantly alter how maritime and air cargo is inspected.

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 within the next five years. However, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may extend the deadline by two-year increments, if necessary. It also calls for the scanning of all cargo on passenger planes within the next three years.

The bill will require specific annual benchmarks on the percentage of maritime cargo containers headed for the U.S., an analysis of how to best incorporate existing maritime security initiatives, including the Container Security Initiative and C-TPAT, and an analysis of the scanning equipment, personnel, and technology needed to reach the 100-percent container scanning objective. On the air cargo side, the Transportation Security Administration will be charged with establishing a system to screen all cargo transported on passenger aircraft operated by domestic or foreign air carriers.

While the drumbeat for 100 percent container inspection has been a chief objective of politicians with a keen eye on national security, these measures have largely been rejected in the past on the basis that they would be impossible to implement without harming domestic and global economy operations.

Prior to Bush’s signature on the bill, U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson said that when H.R. 1 is law, U.S.-bound cargo would be scanned in a commerce-friendly manner. However, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a letter to the House that this legislation “would have a crippling effect on global trade without significantly improving security.”

The five-year deadline for maritime cargo scanning removes some of the immediacy and uncertainty from 100-percent inspection, says King Rogers, executive vice president of SC-integrity, a provider of security technology and information services. “As a country, we have to take some correct initiatives to ensure the integrity of what is coming into our ports,” Rogers told Logistics Management . “While none of us likes the idea of incurring additional costs in importation, inspection, however defined, is a good thing for our nation’s security and the integrity of our supply chains.”

Rogers notes that the five-year deadline should be enough time to get the components of 100-percent container scanning “all together” and, if not, the DHS provision for a two-year delay will then come into play.

While the five-year deadline is a “great concept,” the transfer from paper to reality could be far more difficult, says Captain Joseph Ahlstrom, professor of maritime transportation at SUNY Maritime College. “Everyone is on the same page when it comes to security; they all want 100 percent scanning,” notes Ahlstrom. “But are we able to do that? One-hundred-percent screening where containers can be inspected is one thing, but I would much rather see some sort of system where an alarm will be triggered if there is something suspicious in the containers as they go through.”

Ahlstrom cautioned that the decision to go with a five-year plan should not be viewed as a setback, since it’s more important that stepped up security measures be done correctly rather than quickly. “If we have a finished structure as to what exactly everyone has to do, and then provide enough time and resources to do it, then that puts us in a better position,” he added.

While Rogers and Ahlstrom both believe this bill has the potential to make supply chains more secure, Kelby Woodard, president of Trade Innovations, a supply chain security and customs consultancy, has a much different understanding. “What does Congress [and the Senate] hope to gain by this legislation?” asked Woodard. “They certainly are not using our hard-earned tax dollars to secure the homeland in the most logical and effective way possible. The requirement for 100-percent scanning…is essentially a 'feel good’ measure.”

At the end of the day, said Woodard, Congress will have “added complexity to global trade, overloaded CBP with useless information, strained the port infrastructures of the world, damaged our international credibility, created a security policy that is weakened by inflexibility...and made themselves feel a whole lot better in the process.”

Woodard added that the potential implications of this bill on global trade are enormous, citing how the export community should “brace themselves for retaliatory actions on the part of other countries that may enact similar regulations regarding containers leaving the U.S.”

<<Logistics Management -- 08/21/07>>