Napolitano Clashes with Security Panel

Napolitano Clashes with Security Panel

Congress and the administration squared off in the latest round of a two-year-old sparring match over100 percent cargo scanning, when Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday testified before the House Homeland Security Committee about the 2011 Department of Homeland Security budget.

Napolitano fended off questions from Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., who wanted to know when DHS would meet a congressional requirement for 100 percent scanning of all containers at foreign ports before they’re loaded aboard U.S.-bound ships. In 2007 Congress set a 2012 deadline for scanning all containers, but gave DHS the opportunity to extend the deadline if 100 percent scanning wasn’t feasible. Since then officials of the Bush and Obama administrations, including Napolitano, have testified that Customs and Border Protection could not meet the 2012 deadline.

Thompson noted that the proposed 2011 DHS budget includes a 48 percent reduction in money for the Secure Freight Initiative, the pilot program that tested the100 percent scanning idea. Customs cut $16.6 million from SFI, and said the pilot would stop at three of the five SFI ports.

Napolitano said that Customs can achieve the necessary cargo screening by using more technology and security initiatives like the 10+2 rule, “the electronic records of what’s in cargo, which is now in effect, [and] the 24 hour notice of what’s in cargo now in effect. All things thing that didn’t exist really at the time the 100 percent requirement was contemplated. We have been addressing this from a risk-based and a technology-based approach to get to where we need to be,” Napolitano said.

Customs’ 24 hour rule, which requires carriers to transmit cargo manifest data 24 hours before a container is loaded aboard a vessel, went into effect in 2002.

“Are you going to propose to change the law that Congress established, saying 2012 is the date that 100 percent has to be maintained?” Thompson asked.

Napolitano answered, “I would like the opportunity to address with the committee … whether the 100 percent screening is really the way we go, now that we know more than we did when the 100 percent screening requirement was imposed.”

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