Buried deep within extensive testimony given by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Jay Ahern on April 2 before the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee was a brief announcement that CBP has decided not to pursue the Global Trade Exchange cargo shipping risk assessment program. GTX, previously known as the Secure Freight Initiative before that name began being used to describe overseas scanning programs, had ended up being the Spruce Goose of cargo security – oversold and too big a concept for liftoff.

Knowing that there was extensive information about cargo shipments that is not normally supplied to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), former DHS Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson began pushing the concept of private sector information vetting engine in the fall of 2005. I distinctly remember the speech at CBP’s Trade Symposium where Jackson, in the middle of a series of CBP officials touting their cargo security programs and planning, essentially told them it was insufficient. C-TPAT, CSI, the 24-hour rule, ATS – not enough. Loose plans to hire a vendor to pilot Secure Freight emerged but the trade community, comfortable in their normal give-and-take with CBP, did not know what to make of a plan with few specifics and lots of risk.

Meanwhile, new cargo security issues hit the fast track. The overblown Dubai Ports World transaction exploded like a firecracker in a Congress with little buy-in on CBP’s cargo security regime. Democrats seized on the controversy and concerns about smuggling of nuclear material to push mandatory overseas scanning of in-bound shipments to the U.S. Congress passed a very good cargo security bill late in 2006, the SAFE Ports Act, with a series of tweaks to CBP’s and the Coast Guard’s maritime regime, including mandatory pilots of the 100% scanning initiative. That restraint was unfortunately left aside when Democrats soon retook the Congress and passed a universal 100% scanning requirement which the next President will have to find a way to unwind.

Meanwhile, CBP focused on a traditional security upgrade, pushing the “10+2” initiative to obtain more shipping information within the traditional ATS channels. This regulation, itself controversial with the trade, marches forward as CBP is evaluating input from the COAC advisory committee and some 200 other comments filed in the pending rule-making.

GTX hit its high point when it received a mention in the FY08 Omnibus appropriations bill and CBP was allowed to use some part of $13M to move forward on the initiative. But just weeks later, Jackson announced his resignation and would-be integrators were unable to convince importers to surrender priceless commercial data to help a vendor make a credible proposal. The procurement wheel continued to spin briefly with a RFQ issued in December 2007, but Ahern’s testimony put a sharp and decisive end to the program.

Only time will tell if Jackson’s GTX was truly ahead of its time, or an unnecessary distraction from an effective CBP effort to secure our inbound cargo.