Finding æthe sweet spotÆ
Bersin stresses symbiotic relationship between security and trade.
By Eric Kulisch
The involvement of cargo airlines in developing a new policy for air cargo security will help ensure that it enhances efficient goods movement, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin told American Shipper.
Department of Homeland Security officials have praised express carriers and other airlines for their cooperation in trying to establish a new deadline for advance manifest data. Policymakers say they want to understand how the express delivery and air cargo carriers function, and how they secure their networks, so that security measures can be tailored to existing operations rather than immediately imposing draconian measures that could cripple an industry responsible for moving more than $806 billion in U.S.-international merchandise trade during 2008 ' the latest year for which government figures are available.
Both sides hope a more effective risk-management approach would forestall action by Congress, where bills have already been introduced in the House and Senate to require every shipment on all-cargo planes to be screened by airlines or other parties, as they now are on a majority of passenger planes.
Bersin said collaboration is a manifestation of the new mindset towards security he is trying to instill at Customs and the 'grand bargain' he has consistently offered international shippers since taking office last April. Under the new security paradigm he is trying to construct, importers and transportation providers share more detailed, advance information about their trade partners and shipments in exchange for faster clearance of their goods.
The extensive talks with air carriers are designed to find 'the sweet spot' between commerce and security, Bersin said in the interview. Moving to a trusted shipper model, he said, even required a change in his own thinking to go beyond the traditional notion that security and trade facilitation need to be balanced. Bersin argues that a balanced policy works like a scale which, short of perfect equilibrium, results in one goal being short changed for the other.
'I genuinely believe that they are the same, and believe I can demonstrate, that they are the same phenomenon ' that in fact we can only increase our security profile in a risk management sense by moving the lawful passengers and cargo quickly through so that we can focus on people and cargo about which we have derogatory information or which we lack sufficient information to make a judgment.
'What you see play out in this current rethinking of aviation security is a good example of both sides talking about what's more effective enforcement. In the past, the trade would think about their interests as being less enforcement. And CBP and TSA would think about it as being more enforcement.
'In fact, what we want both parties to think is that each wants effective enforcement. And effective enforcement, by definition, means that you reduce the clutter by promoting and expediting the flow of lawful goods and passengers,' Bersin said.
'It's a real change in the way you approach this. So, you have the express carriers and commercial air carriers sitting down with CBP and TSA and not saying, 'Oh God, every time you increase the enforcement level it's bad for us.'
'Rather the deal that they strike is that effective enforcement means that when we can show you a trusted package that comes from a validated supply chain with a trusted shipper, and we give you this information very quickly, we ask for two things in exchange. One is that you release that cargo so that we can put it into our synchronized system of distribution on time. And the second is if we give you that information early on you won't hold us responsible for technical disparities. So if you're shipping 400 pairs of athletic shoes you're not going to be held liable for some technical violation because you didn't designate it as 300 black pairs and 100 white pairs.'
Bersin said DHS is taking advantage of the current aviation security crisis to make the trusted shipper construct an integral part of the security equation because new measures that simultaneously diminish the capacity to conduct trade will end up hurting U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.
'The possibilities here are that we can have more security and more trade, and we can do that in a very practical way,' he said.
The commissioner has previously stated a desire to beef up the existing Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and attract more companies to the trusted trader program's highest tier. Companies can join C-TPAT if they demonstrate that they have met minimum criteria for securing their supply chain, including having suppliers and service providers that take similar precautions against contraband or weapons being stashed in containers, trucks or other conveyances bound for the United States. Member companies are eligible for fewer cargo security inspections, can go to the front of the line when an inspection is required, and some other administrative benefits. The idea is to create a universe of known, trusted shippers that do not need to have their cargo scrutinized on a regular basis so that border officers can devote their attention to unknown and high-risk shipments.
Nine years into the voluntary program, there are 10,060 participating companies but only 317 of them have reached Tier 3 status, which many traders say hasn't lived up to expectations in terms of providing additional trade facilitation benefits that justify the extra costs of meeting higher security standards.
And a trusted shipper program shouldn't stop with security issues, but address customs compliance and import safety as well, according to Bersin. The former federal prosecutor is aggressively pushing his staff to rethink how the agency interacts with importers so decisions are made based on their overall track record in many areas and internal controls rather than checking each individual shipment or customs entry ' a system known as 'management by account.'
The agency recently launched two small pilot programs limited to customs compliance, but Bersin acknowledged that account management should encompass a wider array of issues to modernize border management.
'If you look at borders only as lines on a map, and the physical ports of entry, and all of your customs and immigration admissibility decisions are made only at that time and in that place you're missing a lot of what the 21st century is about, which is not only the flow of data electronically, but also the flow of goods, people, ideas, capital across a world that in many respects is borderless,' he said.
'So we see the job as securing flows of people and cargo as early as we can and as far away geographically as we can from the physical borders. So management-by-account is therefore critical. If you trust the shipper, if you trust the supply chain, and you validate it according to very high standards then in fact we should be doing a lot of pre-clearance in effect before the goods come to the physical port of entry.'