COAC meeting shows Bersin’s innovation
By Eric Kulisch
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin has demonstrated since he took office a year-and-half ago that he is serious about reaching out to industry stakeholders for their recommendations about a host of issues related to cross-border trade and security, including reducing red tape, implementing automation projects and working more closely with other government agencies with jurisdiction over imports and exports.
Since day one he has repeatedly met with trade associations and other private sector representatives to learn pain points for cargo crossing the U.S. border. Each month he holds an all-day listening session for groups to come in, one after another, to discuss important issues.
He is aggressively pushing a number of reforms to overhaul how the agency does business, including updating regulations for the broker industry, use of account management to improve customer service for frequent importers, and streamlining customs documentation requirements.
At the Aug. 18 meeting of the Commercial Operations Advisory Committee, an industry panel that provides policy recommendations to the Department of Homeland Security and CBP, Bersin took another step towards making the agency more accessible and its work more transparent.
It was the first COAC meeting webcast by the agency so that people who cannot attend in person can follow the policy debate and understand how their business could be affected.
The webcast also included another first: allowing audience members to submit online questions to CBP officials and COAC members. Traditionally, audience members are only allowed to sit and observe.
The meeting also was attended by Mexican and Canadian customs officials, another first for COAC. Their presence highlighted Bersin’s efforts to work closely with Mexican and Canadian governments on enhancing border management and security. But it also shows a management style of outreach and breaking down jurisdictional barriers to get things done, as he is doing to get other federal agencies to closely collaborate on import safety so enforcement is done in a coordinated fashion.
Basham: Pay attention to small boat, plane threat
The U.S. government needs to develop plans to defend against, and respond to, terror attacks utilizing small boats or general aviation aircraft, former Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Ralph Basham said recently.
The country has devoted immense resources and time to thwart attacks against commercial aircraft, or attempts to utilize the ocean container transportation system to smuggle a radiological device or other mass effect weapon for an attack against a population center, landmark, or piece of critical infrastructure. A fair amount of effort is devoted to countering attacks on cyber infrastructure, and chemical plants, and even mass transit.
Michael Chertoff, the nation’s second homeland security secretary who served under President Bush, initiated efforts to study ways to monitor small boat and general aviation traffic, and intercept any potential threats before they could turn into successful suicide attacks.
There hasn’t been much public discussion about those threat areas the past couple of years. The Transportation Security Administration is still developing a program for overseas airports to check passenger and crew manifests for U.S.-bound flights, as well as a regulation proposed in 2008 to require unregulated operators of large general aviation aircraft to implement security programs subject to compliance audits and verify passengers are not on the government’s No-Fly list. Aircraft operators are now required to send their electronic manifest data to CBP for cross-checking one hour prior to departure.
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The Web page that spells out those and other steps DHS is taking in the area of general aviation was last updated on April 28, 2009.
As for small vessel security, the DHS web site says that regional summits are being held to educate boaters and the marine industry about the threat and gather ideas for developing a security system.
Basham, now principal at global security and intelligence advisor Command Consulting, said the United States is still vulnerable to attacks from small boat and plane sources.
‘I think we’re going to see more and more of this sort of boutique-type of terrorism’ that is less operationally challenging than trying to orchestrate another airline hijacking, or building and shipping a nuclear bomb, he said during a panel discussion at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about the state of homeland security 10 years after 9/11.
The country must still maintain its vigilance on nuclear smuggling through international supply chains because the consequences are high, even if the probability is low, he said after the event.
Terrorists, however, are more likely to focus on smaller targets going forward to improve their chances for success, Basham added.
Limerick as briefing tool
Ellen McClain, assistant general counsel for enforcement in the U.S Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Policy, didn’t have much progress to report Aug. 18 in Los Angeles on the development of a global supply chain security strategy since the previous meeting of the Commercial Operations Advisory Committee.
So she summed up the situation for the industry panel with a limerick:
‘On the subject of global supply chain security,
We can only update you with marginal surety.
For the strategy rests
in the hands of the NSS,
Where it is being revised for presidential purity.’
NSS refers to the national security staff at the White House, which is reviewing the draft strategy that will serve as a map for government-wide action to reduce vulnerabilities in international cargo and transportation security. ‘ Eric Kulisch