In the 2007 run-up to the vote on legislation mandating that 100 percent of all cargo be scanned before entering the United States, many in the private and public sectors were surprisingly quiet, especially considering the damage such a mandate will inflict on American trade. Looking back, it is clear that too many folks in both the private and public sectors were overly confident that Congress simply would not pass such an obviously self-destructive piece of legislation. Unfortunately, that confidence was misplaced. In Washington, political posturing often trumps common sense.

Without a strong alternative voice educating the public about why 100 percent scanning would not only undermine the American economy but also make the country less safe – and without pro-active, positive alternative solutions – the mandate was quickly passed into law.

The deadline for air cargo is bearing down in 2010 and that for maritime cargo quickly follows in 2012. Considering how this will require massive restructuring and rethinking of both business and security models, those deadlines are practically bearing down upon us.

Other than protesting that such deadlines can’t be met, I am surprised by the lack of organization on the part of those who understand the negative consequences of this mandate.

In discussions I’ve had with certain sectors, there is still a certain disbelief that Congress will follow through or that a new Administration might change things. But the Administration does not write the laws – Congress does. Any anybody who thinks Congress isn’t serious, isn’t paying attention.

Just this month the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee wrote two separate letters – one to TSA Administrator Kip Hawley and one to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff – that criticized DHS in scathing terms for admitting it may not meet the deadlines imposed by Congress to begin enforcing 100 percent scanning.

In a news release highlighting the letter to Hawley issued by Thompson, he led with a headline chiding TSA that “ALL CARGO” (emphasis in the original) must be scanned. This was in response to TSA’s effort to scan only domestic cargo while excluding international cargo.

Thompson followed up with a letter to Chertoff, accusing him and the rest of the leadership at DHS of trying to “thwart the will of the American people on the issue of 100% scanning.” He capped the letter a demand that Chertoff get back to him, in writing, explaining “By what authority did you determine that you could ignore the congressionally mandated 100% scanning requirement?”

For those who recognize the inherent flaws of a 100-percent-scanning model, now is the time to start making a case to the members of Congress and the general public. I suspect that even those most ardent backers of the 100-percent model are open to reason. We all want to make our country safer.

It is unfortunate that some politicians and special-interest groups are willing to demagogue this issue and accuse anybody in the private sector who opposes them as putting self-interest above national security. Those with the most at stake – in terms of lives as well as bottom lines – are the private-sector companies who are most engaged in the supply chain. They are the ones who have personnel and family at risk should an incident occur; they are the ones whose entire livelihoods depend upon the efficient but secure movement of goods; and they are the ones taking the most risk.

Does it not make sense, then, to listen to those with the most at stake? The notion of 100 percent scanning of cargo makes for good political rhetoric but lousy security. However, without an alternative vision, 100 percent scanning will remain the law – to the detriment of everybody. And all too soon, the negative consequences of this mandate will be felt across both private and public sectors.

It’s not too late to make the case that there’s a better way, but we do have to present such a case. Those with the most at risk, and with the most knowledge of supply chain security, should come together and offer a better plan.