Yesterday, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged the obvious when he announced that DHS will not meet the 2012 deadline set by Congress to scan every cargo container that comes in to U.S. ports. For those of us involved in the industry, the announcement is hardly surprising. There are very few security professionals who would argue that implementing the cargo scanning mandate is possible at all and even fewer who can reasonably say that the 2012 deadline can be met. The nearly universal agreement among experts about the deadline’s infeasibility is based on a number of factors: the immense and still unquantified costs of implementation; the resistance being exerted by our international trading partners; and the countless unknowns about how drastically the mandate will slow trade – a risk that has become even more dangerous amid the economic woes of the past several weeks.
Yet despite these glaring obstacles, there seems to be an almost surreal political debate occurring on Capitol Hill as many of Congress’s top leaders – including Speaker Nancy Pelosi – continue to support the cargo scanning mandate to the point of chastising DHS for failing to meet its unrealistic 2012 deadline. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, has already responded to Chertoff’s announcement by reiterating his primary talking point on the issue that a 100% approach to cargo scanning is the only way to ensure the nation’s safety. It will be interesting to see how Rep. Thompson’s colleagues respond to DHS’ announcement, and whether they finally begin to acknowledge what most security experts have already concluded: that 100% cargo scanning will likely do exactly the opposite of making our nation safer.