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American Shipper

CBP needs to lay out scan-all alternative, says congressman

Rep. Price pressed Customs to submit a better plan for ocean cargo security than inspecting all containers at foreign ports.

   Rep. David Price, D-N.C., pressed Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske during a budget hearing Thursday to submit a clear plan for ocean cargo security in lieu of scanning all containers at foreign ports.
   Price said he agreed that the 2007 congressional mandate to inspect all containers before they are loaded on U.S.-bound vessels is not achievable, but that the agency needs to articulate plans to provide a similar level of security against nuclear weapons and other terrorist-related contraband. Last May, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson sought another two-year waiver from meeting the mandate, as allowed under the law.
   Business groups, foreign governments and most security experts all agree that the law is an unfunded mandate that would harm trade by causing huge cargo delays. The scan-all mandate presents numerous hurdles, not the least of which are the lack of capable technology for quickly taking and processing images of containers, logistics complications associated with culling U.S.-bound containers and laying them down for inspection, the lack of available space to conduct such operations, and getting the acquiescence of foreign governments.
   Many lawmakers have reached the conclusion that implementing the law is not feasible, but Congress included language in last year’s appropriation for Homeland Security asking the department to propose alternative steps that could be realistically achieved in two years. 
   At the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, Kerlikowske, who took the agency’s helm 13 months ago, responded that CBP’s risk-based system of layered security is “very good.” CBP’s approach involves electronic collection of transportation and cargo data that is analyzed for anomalies at the National Targeting Center, limited overseas inspection of targeted containers in select ports, trusted shipper programs, and radiological detection machines reading all containers before exiting U.S. ports by truck or rail.
   The Container Security Initiative, for example, has 86 officers stationed overseas at 60 ports to help identify high-risk containers for inspection before loading on a vessel.
   The commissioner said another complication with 100 percent scanning is that many overseas ports are privately owned.
   Price said he is not quibbling with the waivers, but added, “There needs to be some assurance that we are operating in a rational and comprehensive fashion.”
   Several prominent business groups last year recommended that Johnson ask Congress to repeal the law so that it doesn’t distract from more effective border security efforts.
   In his written testimony, Kerlikowske noted that the administration budget is seeking an additional $85.3 million in fiscal year 2016 to recapitalize its non-intrusive inspection systems, which includes mobile and stationary x-ray machines that can look inside ocean containers.
   “Without this funding increase, maintenance costs will rise, systems will become obsolete, system downtime will rise – all impacting the effectiveness and cost of inspections due to the need for manual inspection, ultimately delaying the movement of legitimate trade and travel,” he said.
   Subcommittee Chairman John Carter, R-Texas, noted that CBP will likely have to accept much less than the $850 million increase it is seeking above the current enacted level because of the 2011 Budget Control Act, which implemented across-the-board cuts on non-defense discretionary spending over 10 years.

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