A senior Homeland Security Department official told lawmakers on Wednesday it is time for Congress to reconsider a legal mandate created by Democratic lawmakers that requires all cargo containers to be scanned for weapons of mass destruction at foreign ports before they are shipped to the United States.
The mandate, which Democrats put in a massive 2007 homeland security bill with much fanfare, requires the department to ensure that all U.S.-bound containers are scanned abroad by 2012. At the time, critics complained that the mandate was a “bumper-sticker” security solution that was unrealistic. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers in late February that meeting the deadline was not feasible, mainly because technology does not exist to do such comprehensive scanning and because obtaining political agreements with other countries is problematic.
Jayson Ahern, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday that the mandate “needs to be thoughtfully reconsidered.” Because it is written into the law, the department still must work toward achieving it, taking time and resources away from other priorities, Ahern said. He said the risk that a weapon of mass destruction would be smuggled by a ship container is “minimal” and the department has “more significant vulnerabilities” to address. He added that there is also “a significant amount of international churn” by other countries about what U.S. policy on scanning containers will ultimately be.