COAC creates container security subcommittee
The Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations of the U.S. Customs Service, comprising representatives from the import/export trades, voted Friday to set up a temporary subcommittee that would recommend to the government ways to keep ocean-going containers safe from tampering by terrorists.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert Bonner has made container security a top priority since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Several programs have been instituted to try and detect suspicious cargo along its journey, but there is still no absolute way to guarantee that a container was loaded in a secure facility and maintained its integrity during several handoffs from origin to destination.
Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security, said at the last COAC meeting in early February that the Department of Homeland Security was interested in setting up a container working group to meet congressional mandates. On Friday, DHS officials presented a proposal defining the scope and operating guidelines of the subcommittee, and asked that it identify within six months performance standards for container security and additional measures to increase overall supply chain security.
The industry review is part of a renewed commitment by DHS to coordinate at the headquarters’ level cargo security programs such as the Container Security Initiative (CSI), the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), Operation Safe Commerce, and technology research. The Transportation Security Administration and Customs have begun an analysis to identify gaps between separate supply chain security programs to make sure they complement each other as part of a linked system that works in a holistic rather than piecemeal manner, and allow the department to target resources to areas of potential weakness, Dezenski told the committee. COAC will also be asked for its response to the program review, she said.
DHS will also provide the subcommittee with a framework of the types of performance standards it is seeking to require — such as time frames for implementation, cost, cost/benefit analysis, responsible parties within the supply chain that should be required to meet the standards — and seek industry feedback, said Elaine Dezenski, director of cargo and trade policy at DHS.
The third set of recommendations DHS will seek from COAC involves the development of ways to quantify the relative effectiveness of supply chain security initiatives.
COAC member Thomas Travis, partner in the Miami-based trade law firm Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, applauded DHS for its effort, especially the department’s willingness to better understand the cost and benefits to industry and taxpayers of border security measures.
“That is the central question that many people are sometimes afraid to ask given the threat that we face,” he told DHS officials at the meeting. “I think it’s extraordinary that you are doing this yourselves and asking us to participate.”
“We share those concerns over cost/benefit issues and we think that it’s important to have that conversation now before we take action as opposed to issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking or some other requirement and then having the discussion,” Dezenski said.
“Then it’s not only extraordinary, it’s refreshing,” Travis replied.
A COAC report assessing the progress of C-TPAT apparently was not presented to DHS Friday as scheduled because the subcommittee work will encompass such a review.
DHS will also receive advice on how to improve container security from the General Accounting Office, which recently announced it would review CSI and C-TPAT.