Created in the aftermath of the deadliest terrorist attack ever on American soil, the Department of Homeland Security was constructed as an emblem of the nation's determination to create a wall of defense against terror. One of the department's earliest goals was to focus on the very tool that were turned against Americans on September 11 - the country's transportation system.
Among the first objectives for the new Office of Homeland Security, the predecessor to the Department of Homeland Security, was to "rethink and renovate" transportation and border security.
"The federal government will allocate resources in a balanced way to manage risk in our border and transportation security systems while ensuring the expedient flow of goods, services, and people," read the 2002 national strategy on homeland security.
Oversight that had been in the Department of Transportation, including the former U.S. Customs and aviation security, were pushed into a sprawling new bureaucracy and since then the initials DHS and TSA, for Transportation Security Administration, have become entrenched in the shipping world.
But five years later, is DHS living up to its promise to secure supply chains against use by terrorists? From aviation to maritime shipping and trucking, among shippers and carriers, the reviews are decidedly mixed, and few suggest that the monument to transportation security is more than a work in progress.
"I think you'd have to say there is a lot of frustration out there with DHS and its various components with regard to border security and international security issues still," said Earl Eisenhart, a transportation policy consultant to shippers.
Since its inception, DHS has had a profound affect on the shipping industry, as it tries to strike a balance between securing the country and crippling the very system it is trying to protect.
"That is the challenge over the next five years, it's trying to protect that balance," said Peter J. Gatti, executive vice president of the National Industrial Transportation League. "We have to be extremely careful that we just don't try to put a padlock on everything."
In one sign of the contrasting demands, at the Canadian border, where three-hour wait times were not uncommon last year, broad strategic efforts aimed at meeting the needs of 21st century supply chains came down to more practical concerns. There, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation installed portable toilets along Highway 402 at the Blue Water Bridge crossing, which connects Ontario and Michigan.
"Increased border wait times have resulted in just-in-time deliveries being unable to meet their crucial deadlines, leading to both interrupted delivery of goods and a cascading effect that disrupts the complex Canada-U.S. supply chain," a joint study between the U.S. and Canadian Chambers of Commerce found.
Each day, about $1.5 billion in two-way trade crosses the border, but a "thickening of the border" is complicating the world's largest bilateral trading relationship by making it increasingly more expensive for cargo to cross, according to the study released last month.
For shippers, the attention to security driven by DHS mandates has been both helpful and, many say, maddening. Shippers say they are receiving just nominal benefits from programs designed to expedite the cargo of trusted shippers, though certification for them can cost well over $100,000.
One of the longest standing and most popular programs is Custom-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, a voluntary effort that aims to reduce inspections, increase electronic document processing and expedite border crossing. Most shippers laud at least the idea of C-TPAT, and many require their carriers be participants to bid on contracts, but many also roundly criticize the program's execution as ineffective.
"It's not really living up to all of its expectations," said Eisenhart. "There are some questions about what benefits are there."
The cost of participating in the program, according to a University of Virginia study, has nearly doubled the amount of money importers spend on security, but only 35 percent of participants reported a decrease in inspections by Customs and Border Inspection agents.
The study, which surveyed 1,756 C-TPAT participants, found the mean annual security expenditures went from slightly more than $35,000 before joining C-TPAT to nearly a projected of $70,000 in 2007.
Some believe those figures are low.
"Our members feel like they are spending a lot more than that," said Bill O'Connor, chairman of the NITL's Security Committee, who added some companies spend $200,000 to $300,000 a year on security.
"The benefits that one gets from C-TPAT, right now, they are not concrete," O'Connor said. "Companies can't go to their [chief financial officer] and say, 'Here is the deal on C-TPAT, here is what we get if we sign up.'"
Still, more than 91 percent of the businesses surveyed in the Virginia study said they have not considered leaving the program.
The department, which has more than 200,000 employees, is the third-largest cabinet agency, the product of a massive reorganization of federal government that brought 22 different government agencies under one roof.
"We are the first to admit that there is more to be done, but we are proud of our accomplishments to date and the progress we have made in securing the homeland," said DHS spokeswoman Laura Keehner.
The agency says its multilayered and risk-based approach to cargo screening ensures that it can identify and stop threatening cargo without grinding the system to a halt.
"The key to targeting the right cargo is having good information in advance so that our inspectors and agents can assess the risk each container poses," Keehner said.
To that end, the agency has introduced a host of cargo security programs that use advance cargo manifest information and automated systems, and says initiatives like the trusted shipper program and radiation detection screening have been put in place to ease commerce through ports and borders.
Wait times for commercial shipments along the U.S.-Canadian border, for instance, were reduced by 36 percent in February, according to DHS.
Additionally, the department points out that it regularly reaches out to the business community and works closely with industry partners in crafting security programs. "We recognize the private sector plays a critical role in securing the supply chain," Keehner said.
Also, it has been holding job fairs across the country in an effort to double the number of CBP agents to 20,000 by the end of September 2009, and has been working to increase staff levels at other agencies as well.
With dozens of committees and subcommittees it has to answer to on the Hill, some say it is no surprise that DHS has been a lightning rod for criticism, especially in Congress.
In fact, many of its critics also concede DHS' troubles have been at least in part because of the strong influence of Congress, which has imposed ambitious programs under tight deadlines even as department officials have been weighed down with the practical matters of creating an entirely new cabinet agency.
Businesses say they recognize that, for the most part, DHS has made an effort to at the very least gather their input when crafting new regulations.
"I think industry wants to continue to be part of the process," said Jonathan Gold, a vice president at the National Retail Federation. "We've enjoyed the partnership we have gained over the past five years and want to see that grow."
The Bush administration can say the agency has been successful in achieving its primary mission: protecting the nation from dangerous people and dangerous goods.
"The Department of Homeland Security is working to protect our transportation systems and other critical infrastructure from terrorist attacks," President Bush said in commemorating the department's fifth anniversary March 6.
"Our enemies have declared, they have made it abundantly clear that if they can strike economic targets here in America, they can terrorize our people and do great harm to our economy."
That suggests there will be more security regulations coming down the line, even as DHS struggles with current initiatives.
While much of the attention in public has been on screening at airport checkpoints, one of DHS' biggest struggles in the cargo arena has been beyond the areas where the public travels. The Transportation Worker Identification Credential, a broad security effort so far dedicated only to the maritime industry, has drawn criticism for its dilatory pace toward implemention.
The TSA began issuing the technologically advanced cards last October, but the machinery to read them is not available.
"You have this program that was announced with great fanfare by our government," said Edward Wytkind, the president of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department. "To this day they are still fumbling the procurement of the technology."
The department says it is on tap to meet the SAFE Port Act deadline of April 2009 to publish card reader requirements, but opponents say the delays have led some employees to stop taking the enrollment process seriously.
"People are not bothering to do it," said Jonathan K. Waldron, a maritime law and homeland security expert. "They've got other things to do."
That could create a "nightmare" when TSA begins requiring the cards for workers to enter off-shore facilities such as ports, a rule that could be implemented as soon as next month, Waldron said.
To many, the concerns at DHS go beyond single programs, however, to its very structure. Patched together from various agencies that were in other cabinet departments, DHS is made up of overlapping agencies and regulations that critics say create confusion and costly redundancies.
"Who has authority when and where, I think that is an issue they are trying to address," said NRF's Gold. "I think there needs to be some consolidation. ?We don't want to see our folks doing multiple programs that are essentially doing the same thing."
It's a problem that faces chemical shippers, who are regulated by the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, as well as by the TSA.
"Duplication creates confusion and wastes valuable resources," Jennifer C. Gibson, a vice president at the National Association of Chemical Distributors, said in a statement. The association hopes a memorandum of understanding that aims to "delineate clear lines of authority" between DHS and DOT will help solve the problem.
Not all of the regulation has been bad, some shippers say.
Although challenging, there are strong benefits to the increased focus on security. Improved tracking, better ability to manage lead time and increased supply chain visibility are some of the benefits shippers have reported seeing after tightening their supply chains.
"Change doesn't come easy, but I think for the most part that people would agree that if those objectives can be achieved then they are certainly worth doing," said Gatti.
Still, new and pending security programs have shippers on edge.
The Global Trade Exchange, a concept proposed in 2005 for a third-party data warehouse that would house large volumes of trade data, has raised concern about the effect leaks and other breaches of proprietary information could have on competitiveness.
"The inability of companies to protect their own confidential data is a recipe for commercial disaster," Mary Alexander, chair of the Joint Industry Group wrote to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff last summer.
Some, however, think the idea, which was the brainchild of by then-Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson, who left the department last October, will languish without his support.
CBP's 10+2 security filing rule also has raised the hackles of the shipping industry. The rule would require importers to provide data not found on the ship's manifest in advance of cargo movements, but shippers are concerned.
"Adding costs, delays and uncertainty to the lives of their targets is yet another way of indirectly exploiting the tools of terror and generally lowering the quality of life," officials from the National Association of Beverage Importers and The Beer Institute wrote in their comments on the proposal.
Many are looking to the November presidential elections with a wary eye, after seeing the much-revered 9/11 Recommendations Act come as a product in the change to a Democratic-controlled Congress in 2006.
"Obviously, we ended up with the 100 percent scanning regulation," said Gold, referring to the legislation's mandate for maritime containers and air cargo to undergo 100 percent scanning.
"The Democrats are trying to show themselves as being strong on homeland security and passed a regulation that didn't make sense," Gold said. "They are going to come in and potentially make their mark, which could be dangerous because there has been a lot done over the past five years."