DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the United States is no longer going to screen every cargo container before it enters the United States
The crippled economy is forcing the business community to make tough choices about where to cut costs; personnel, overhead expenses, security investment, or anything that doesn’t add to near-term solvency. Mindful that we haven’t had an attack on US soil in 7 ½ years; our fleeting memory of fear of terrorism has been replaced by an immediately palpable fear of losing our jobs and facing financial ruin.
Yesterday, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff publically 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.
In recent years, Homeland Security officials have emphasized the need for a risk-based approach to cargo screening to provide a high level of security while also allowing for the free flow of goods into the United States through the international supply chain. Despite this success, Congress passed a law last year mandating the 100-percent screening of all cargo shipments coming into the United States. Rather than implementing such a restrictive mandate, Congress should consider collaborating with the private sector to find sensible alternatives for supply chain security. This is precisely the point that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff made in a recent speech at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., where he argued that the government should not try to “micromanage the business operations” of U.S. companies, but should look to partnerships between government and industry to protect the cargo shipment sector and our vital transportation infrastructure.
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.
The 2004 Madrid subway attacks and the 2005 London subway and bus attacks demonstrate that the terrorists consider passenger rail and mass transit as preferred targets. The rising fuel costs for automobiles and congested air travel could logically push more passengers to rail throughout the course of the year and beyond. This is where DHS and DOT should place their emphasis.
Last week in a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee, Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) made statements that shed light on the potentially problematic process of implementing a 100% screening requirement for cargo containers.
In addition to raising valid questions about the technological feasibility of the mandate, Thompson’s statements should also prompt a re-examination of the much more important security implications of a 100% cargo scanning system. We are similarly lacking evidence that shows replacing the current risk-based system of security with a “100%” approach will actually make our country’s ports safer. In fact, most of the evidence we do have says just the opposite.