Copyright 2008, Traffic World, Inc.
There''s finally some good news in the contentious,
controversy-riddled arena of cargo security.
That unwieldy icon of 100 percent container screening now has a manageable name: Scan-all. Beyond that, however, there is little to suggest that any great sense of reality has seeped into the long-running soap opera that marks debates in Washington over supply chain security.
That''s unfortunate because with changes in political leadership seemingly on the horizon, it''s more important than ever to provide shippers a sense of stability and, more important, a sense that goodwill efforts are under way to meet the needs of commerce and of security.
In the sort of theater that has too often marked discussions on security in the nation''s capital, a Customs and Border Protection official told a Senate hearing last month the agency will not meet the 2012 deadline for screening every container coming to the United States for nuclear weapons or radioactive threats.
So New Jersey''s two senators last week introduced a bill that essentially would tell CBP, yes you will.
"Port security is essentially to protect our residents from attack, and if this administration won''t adequately protect us, we will," Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, said at an event in Newark, N.J.
Any hopes that several dozen U.S. senators would fan out to the nation''s ports, ready to climb into suspect sea containers, were dashed, however. Instead, the bill would "set standards" and bring "accountability" to the screening efforts.
But it would not change some of the basic laws of physics, which CBP seems to point to in explaining why it can''t meet the mandates set by Congress.
We say seems to because CBP Deputy Commissioner Jayson Ahern didn''t really talk much at the June 12 hearing about the technological hurdles for screening thousands of sea containers each day. Instead, Ahern criticized the very idea of 100 percent screening (sorry, we mean scan-all) and how it will not bring "100 percent security."
In fact, said Ahern, never mind ports, look over at the greater risk potential for railroads and border crossings.
That''s a weak defense of what should be a strong case for risk assessment and a layered approach that considered not only maritime security but supply chain security.
The trouble is, when the administration says there is no technology to efficiently do what members of Congress want, they''re leaving aside work that''s going on all over the world to bring scan-all a little closer to reality. Projects in other parts of the world would add radiation monitors at ports, and European ports, long critical of the U.S. requirements, are looking for technology and methods to add screening.
So there may be relatively non-obtrusive ways to meet demands for greater screening. But implementing them will require that the administration and its critics first set aside the too-familiar rhetoric on both sides of the debate and look at what technology companies offer, and look at what really can be done in a realistic time frame.
They''ve got a name for the program, after all, so now they just need the program.