Port Security

Port Security

Five years after September 11, there are signs of common sense in Congress about cargo security.

The Senate's movement on a port security bill isn't just good news to the shipping community for the programs that it embraces and extends, or for the money it provides for port security grants. It's critically important for shippers because it shows there is deep understanding in the legislative branch of the long-term health of shipping and the way security methods can and do work in the everyday world.

The Port Security Improvement Act of 2006 introduced by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is a sensible measure that recognizes the myriad steps the government has taken to meet the terror threat, including the important measures undertaken by the Customs and Border Protection Agency.

Those include the formal authorization of the Container Security Initiative and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, programs that are at the heart of efforts to hardening supply chains against terror while keeping commerce alive.

In a summer marked by grandstanding on issues ranging from flag burning to demands for 100 percent cargo screening, the Collins measure is a breath of fresh air, a safe haven for anyone who longs for some cool heads and reason in what has become a hot-button political issue.

What Collins didn't include, and what we hope will not be in the final version that that is put together from the Senate and House versions of the bill, is a requirement for full 100 percent physical screening of all imported cargo.

Never mind years of work by shippers, carriers and logistics companies on improved systems.

Never mind the use of technology for heightened visibility of industrial cargo.

Never mind the huge volume of containers pushing through ports, most of it packed up in industrial arenas within secure supply chains.

Never mind the real impact on cargo security.

The fact is, shippers and carriers will find ways to move cargo expeditiously. That may mean moving goods through ports in Mexico and Canada and onto the rails.

Instead, the bill the Senate was considering last week was a modified version of the GreenLane Maritime Security Act, which Collins and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced last year.

It would establish incentives for more rapid handling of cargo, a so-called "green lane," for shippers whose goods are inspected at the point of loading, then sealed and tracked through to the entry ports. It would also create pilot programs at three foreign ports to research scanning and radiation detection systems.

We've written very harshly on this page about some of the Department of Homeland Security's efforts on cargo security, but the actions on port security at CBP have been measured, thoughtful and productive, and they set the groundwork for improved security for years to come.

As one cargo industry executive told us last week, "Shutting down our commercial supply chains is one of the goals of terrorists. Wouldn't some of these legislative proposals do exactly that?"

Perhaps not, when there is a rare moment of common sense in the Capitol.