Securely Contained

Securely Contained

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.

Do you feel safer knowing supply chain security has moved into prime time in the political campaigns?

Shippers and logistics operators whose interest in cargo security goes little beyond attention to U.S. Customs requirements and the surcharges on their carrier invoices should be paying close attention to the role supply chain security is taking in the current election season.

That is because the comments in the presidential campaign and the actions by the Bush administration - yes, they are related - speak volumes about the direction of security in the logistics world in the coming years.

John Kerry''s comments on container security at the Democratic convention shouldn''t have come as a surprise. Kerry is close to fellow Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Ed Markey, a strong proponent of 100 percent inspection of air cargo containers.

Still, not many presidential candidates have used their nomination acceptance speeches to get in a word about freight.

"We shouldn''t be letting 95 percent of container ships come into our ports without ever being physically inspected," Kerry said in Boston July 29.

Only a couple of days before at the convention, former President Clinton used cargo security as a hammer to beat at Republicans over tax cuts for the wealthy.

"Democrats tried to double the number of containers at ports and airports checked for weapons of mass destruction," said Clinton. "The $1 billion cost would have been paid for under our bill by reducing the tax cut of 200,000 millionaires by $5,000. Almost all 200,000 of us would like to have done that, to spend $5,000 to make all 300 million Americans safer.

"The measure failed because the White House and the Republican leadership in the House decided my tax cut was more important."

Even congressional candidates are getting into the act.

In South Carolina, for instance, state Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, has made port and cargo security key campaign issues in her campaign against Rep. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., in the race to succeed Democratic Sen. Ernest Hollings. Tenenbaum wants to double container inspections overseas from the current 4 percent to at least 8 percent within two years, and increase port-security grants.

That looks relatively more thoughtful than proposals from Congress and the White House that offer isolated - or should we call them piecemeal? - requirements without the money to pay for them.

There is room for this rhetoric, however, because of the vacuum created by the administration''s lack of a broad, comprehensive and strategic approach to cargo security.

The then-U.S. Customs agency recognized that vacuum when it created its benchmark Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program in the aftermath of September 11. This week, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection will step up its security demands on air cargo shippers under its Air AMS system.

Meanwhile, the White House has been sitting on a larger air cargo strategic plan, supposedly the next step after coping with passenger security issues. Recommendations on that plan came out late last year and the cooperative spirit that was created between logistics players and the Transportation Security Administration in the last two years has withered in the delay.

That leaves shippers facing the disheartening possibility that supply chain security will become what everyone fears most: a patchwork of requirements built from political expediency rather than from reason and strategic thinking.

Anyone involved in the supply chain, including shippers, should demand better and offer better.