With Elaine Dezenski, DHS Border and Transportation Security

With Elaine Dezenski, DHS Border and Transportation Security

Elaine Dezenski took over in January as director of cargo and trade policy for the Department of Homeland Security Border and Transportation Security directorate. Her first job was to organize a "container working group" to complete two unfinished requirements of the Maritime Transportation Security Act: standards for "secure systems of transportation," and container seals and locks. Dezenski previously directed transportation policy for the Transportation Security Administration, and held policy posts at the Department of Transportation.

Q. Who is on the container working group?

A. We have a senior policy working group that I chair, with representation from TSA, Customs and Border Protection, our science and technology directorate, and the Coast Guard. This working group was set up to assure we have a coordinated approach as we implement the two legislative requirements under MTSA. The working group is not focused only on these specific pieces. We have to understand exactly how our departmental efforts fit together. It's brought a lot more coherent structure to what we're trying to do.

Q. You have said you wanted to apply "gap analysis" to Homeland Security's programs. Can you explain?

A. The idea is to get a comprehensive view of how our programs link up, where there may be overlaps of activity or jurisdiction, and those areas where we may want to focus more resources. We're trying to get to a broader picture, so we can make a more reasoned determination of policy strategy. It also gives us an opportunity to think about how to leverage our scarce resources.

Q. What's an example of how you may leverage resources?

A. One of the things we're looking at is the known-shipper program that's operated within TSA. Can it somehow help the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, and vice versa? We're also looking at whether we can create a targeting tool for domestic air cargo, based on what Customs is already doing for international cargo.

Q. You intend to share the working group's results with the Departmental Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations of Customs and Border Protection (COAC). Will the trade community have a say in policy-making?

A. Absolutely. We're not looking for a stamp of approval. We intend to present alternatives in an impartial manner to the COAC. We will ask some specific questions to solicit input and feedback.

Q. It sounds like a fairly formal structure.

A. It's important to have some formality to it. We're dealing with issues that could end up as standards or regulations. It is important to work through a formalized federal advisory committee such as COAC. It gives us much more latitude to talk with our regulated parties about things that will directly impact them. COAC is an important venue, but it's not the only one we need to use to talk with the industry. We're interested in what the technology providers have to say, but we're going to work with them through a slightly different process.

Q. How will the working group work with agencies other than Homeland Security, particularly the Food and Drug Administration and the Transportation Department?

A. The first order of business is to look at performance standards for the container. That has less to do with the particular commodity that's inside. As we look at secure systems of transportation, we get to some other issues, such as what are we doing for security at the point of origin? How are we integrating our evaluation activities? What are we doing to coordinate with the FDA, to ensure that targeting mechanisms are in place? We're helping them, and they're helping us. With the DOT, it's a little bit different. After Sept. 11, it organized the original Container Working Group, which was a predecessor to what we're trying to do now with COAC. A DOT representative also co-chairs Operation Safe Commerce, which is a critical piece of the secure systems of transportation plan. The continued role of the DOT has been extremely helpful. We've also asked the DOT to be a member of this committee to facilitate and provide technical guidance.

Q. Shippers tend to think of a single supply chain, not one that stops at the border, and a second one that commences inside the border. As a matter of cargo-security policy, how are you going to integrate international and domestic supply-chain security?

A. The challenge is how we prioritize. Clearly, there's a lot of focus at the border. I think that's consistent with where we see the threat. There are some things that will naturally overlap. For example, if we have performance standards for containers, those standards don't go away once that container starts its domestic movement. Purely domestic movements are a slightly different story - the TSA has jurisdiction, and we may need different approaches to reflect different vulnerabilities.