100 Percent Nearly Opposed

100 Percent Nearly Opposed

Despite stronger opposition on several fronts, members of Congress are sticking with the idea that scanning all containers at foreign ports is good supply chain security policy.

The European Commission opposed 100 percent scanning when it was enacted in 2007, and on Feb. 18 it fired the latest salvo: The commission called on the U.S. to abandon such unilateral efforts in favor of an integrated, multilayered cooperative cargo security regime.

The chances the commission will sway congressional opinion are practically nil. All members of the House, where 100 percent scanning finds its most dedicated proponents, are up for re-election this year, and no one wants to look soft on homeland security.

The attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack on an airplane over Detroit has likely killed any chance for change in the foreseeable future, said Michael Schmitz, director of compliance and facilitation for the World Customs Organization in Brussels.

“I’m thinking all bets are off. How are we even going to get cargo on the agenda? It’s all going to be about passengers now,” Schmitz said. “Is anyone willing to vote against a flawed security standard in the run-up to the midterm elections? I’m a little disheartened, to say the least.”

The European Commission report, “Secure Trade and 100 Percent Scanning of Containers,” which incorporates data from the WCO, urges the U.S. to develop “a package of measures to cope with the wide diversity of security risks.” The U.S. and Europe should work on cooperative measures such as mutual recognition of shipper-participation programs such as the U.S. Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and the EU Authorized Economic Operator, according to the report.

The report also estimates the costs of complying with the law. EU members would have to pay some $580 million in capital costs to configure ports for 100 percent scanning, an additional $270 million a year in operating costs, plus an overall 10 percent increase in the cost of transporting goods.

The Department of Homeland Security is unenthusiastic about 100 percent scanning. The 2007 law gave the department an out: If 100 percent scanning was not feasible by the 2012 deadline, the DHS could get two-year extensions. In December, Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Senate Commerce Committee that Customs and Border Protection would not make the deadline.
Customs’ proposed budget for fiscal 2011 shows it backing away from the Secure Freight Initiative, the program under which 100 percent scanning was pilot-tested at five international ports. The agency requests a $16.6 million reduction and an end to SFI at ports in Honduras, the U.K. and South Korea. Those ports will be included in the Container Security Initiative, under which “only targeted, high-risk cargo will be examined, as opposed to 100 percent of all cargo under SFI.”

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss. and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, was not happy. Thompson issued a statement saying he was “disappointed that the president’s budget fails to provide the necessary resources for DHS to meet its international cargo screening requirements.”

Napolitano, meanwhile, was due to appear at the committee’s Feb. 25 budget hearing. A committee spokesman said the question of 100 percent scanning was very likely to come up (See www.joc.com for updates).

But there are cracks in the wall of congressional support. During December’s Commerce Committee hearing, Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., said Congress must reconsider the 100 percent scanning requirement. “I don’t want to do it, but it’s something that can’t realistically, and in some ways responsibly, be done — and in some cases does not need to be done,” he said recently.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security expressed similar misgivings last April in approving the DHS 2010 budget. “A 100 percent scanning goal is not feasible, and even if it were, would come at an unacceptably high cost monetarily and at the displacement of other efforts,” the report said.

DHS officials declined to discuss the European report. The department issued a statement, saying, “DHS is committed to doing everything it can to work with Congress and its international partners to enhance the security of containers as they transit through the global supply chain to the United States,” but it acknowledged that achieving 100 percent scanning by 2012 is a complex logistical, diplomatic, fiscal and technical problem.

“Even with the postponement (to 2014), the rest of the world is saying, ‘We don’t know what to do,’ ” Schmitz said. While Europe is taking the lead, trading powers such as India and China have attended the meetings, and are not opposed what the commission is doing.

The European Commission so far has engaged in a war of words, but things could change if Congress gets tough. Schmitz said if Congress imposes a deadline with no extensions, the U.S could face demands for scanning all containers that leave U.S. ports.

Contact R.G. Edmonson at bedmonson@joc.com