Transport Politics

Transport Politics

Copyright 2006, Traffic World, Inc.

It''s said politics and religion are two topics best avoided in polite conversation. They''re also topics best left at the loading dock door as far as transportation and logistics is concerned.

That''s worked well for the modern history of freight transportation, where most of the major initiatives that have created contemporary distribution channels have been built in a truly bipartisan manner. From the deregulation of aviation, interstate trucking and rails during the Democratic Carter administration to the construction projects pushed by Republican Rep. Bud Shuster, the traditional fault lines of politics in Washington have barely shown up as cracks in the asphalt in the nation''s transport systems.

In fact, most of the day-to-day work of transport politics in Washington is focused on the government agencies, where the heavy lifting is often quite literally that: the management of heavy volumes of regulations.

That''s why shippers and carriers, even when they are divided, can commiserate together with comments like that of Mark Twain: "Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself."

Shippers, transport carriers and others with a stake in the supply chain may face the consequences of Washington''s partisan battles soon, however, and the transportation industry should start facing the possibility sooner rather than later.

With talk that control of the House of Representatives will change hands in the fall elections, there''s growing unease across the transportation industry that a Congress under Democrats will enact dramatic changes in supply chain security regulations. That could include requirements for full 100 percent physical screening of air cargo and stringent new regulations for screening of ocean imports, requirements so far defeated but frequently revived as a kind of political stalking horse.

Such screening would undercut and even end the "layered" security strategy that has been a hallmark of the Transportation Security Administration''s approach to freight security. One transportation official who has been a frequent critic of the TSA publicly and privately told us he''s dismayed by the possibility that one of the few administration strategies he can applaud could be killed in a political upheaval in Congress.

That''s why now is the time for the transportation industry to make the case for programs such as the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, air cargo''s Known Shipper program and other efforts to ensure real security.

That also means engaging Democratic Party leaders directly on their apparent strategy to attack Bush administration policies on terrorism with what many in the logistics industry, Democrats and Republicans alike, believe are arguments of troubling simplicity.

Fighting the terrorism of September 11 will mean addressing the roots of Islamic extremism. But proposals to fight terrorism only by turning the country into a fortress show no more wisdom than the White House policies that may change the domestic political landscape this fall.