House lawmakers seek answers on CSDs, GTX
Ahern envisions limited role for CSDs
Chertoff provides update on 10+2, GTX
Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, conveyed concern Monday about the progress of three cargo security efforts — container security devices, the “10+2” advance data submission for importers and the data mining project known as the Global Trade Exchange — in a letter to Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff.
The letter, which was also signed by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., faulted the department for not meeting the SAFE Port Act requirement to develop minimum security standards for containers by last April and questioned whether it would meet the new deadline of April 1, 2008 recently set in the 9/11 implementation act.
The congressmen claim the act requires the use of container security devices. But Congress left to DHS to determine whether electronic CSDs were technically feasible and should be included in the standards. The recently passed 9/11 bill added a default measure whereby if no minimum standard was in place by April 15, then all containers would have to revert to using an ISO-approved, high-security mechanical seal.
The lawmakers said they were “perplexed” by Customs and Border Protection Assistant Commissioner Jayson Ahern’s recent statements that difficulty finding a reliable container security device (CSD) likely precludes mandating shippers’ use of the technology on all ocean containers entering the country, but could be useful in limited applications. The goal of the devices is to provide electronic alerts of criminal or terrorist tampering with the container doors during transit.
CBP has been very skeptical about the reliability of the devices, saying false alarm rates are not low enough to prevent its limited number of inspectors from wasting time to respond and check for smuggled weapons or contraband in the box. CBP plans to issue in the coming weeks specifications it wants device makers to meet, which likely will include a nuisance alarm rate of less than 1 percent.
Ahern said at a maritime security conference in late October the agency is informally considering the notion of lowering its fault tolerance level to 2 percent or 3 percent on specific, high-risk trade lanes, such as through land ports of entry on the Mexican border, where a CSD might help detect attempts to breach a container or trailer. The reasoning seems based on the fact that CBP officers already open a large number of suspicious trailers searching for drugs and other prohibited items, and that the CSDs would not worsen, or could in fact improve, the workload.
“We find these statements extremely troubling and inconsistent with clear statutory mandates. Congress did not mandate a limited application of container security devices; rather, Congress mandated container security devices for all containers,” the lawmakers said. They also opposed the idea of limiting CSDs to cross-border truck traffic, saying, “Differential treatment for cargo transported by containerships and cargo transported by trucks not only conflicts with the intent of Congress but also cannot be justified on security grounds. Containers arriving via ship are just as vulnerable as those arriving via truck, if not more so.”
Thompson and Markey asked Chertoff to explain what technology will be required to comply with the SAFE Port standard, how “false positives” will be addressed, and the requirements for the installation and operation of the radio frequency identification readers at ports and other transit hubs. They said some of their questions were prompted by a recent letter from the World Shipping Council, which represents ocean container lines and has generally opposed CSD proposals.
The congressmen also criticized DHS for moving ahead with its so-called Global Trade Exchange without apparent consultation with industry.
Last week, Chertoff said his department will soon issue a solicitation for a small-scale pilot project to design and test a global data clearinghouse run by the private sector that can be used by governments to analyze the security of international shipments. The GTX concept was first raised two years ago as a way to improve the targeting of high-risk shipments for inspection by accessing information, such as purchase orders and shipping details, not received via normal regulatory channels.
DHS officials have suggested that many commercial databases already exist to facilitate shipment movement and related financial transactions. These can be tapped into without building a whole new infrastructure, they claim.
The idea has raised howls of protest from industry, which is concerned that confidential business data could be shared with a third party with which a company has no contractual relationship or that less scrupulous governments may share the data with domestic competitors.
DHS has been purposely vague about the development of the program pending the release of the request for quotation, now expected in December. Members of a DHS and Customs federal advisory panel, as well as other business groups, have asked DHS to share design plans so the business community can have input into the program and address any concerns up front.
Industry will have a chance to shape the program once the winning bidder for the solicitation is selected, said Richard DiNucci, director of CBP’s Secure Freight Initiative office, said during Friday’s quarterly meeting of the Commercial Operations Advisory Committee.
The program, at least during the pilot phase, is to be voluntary. The GTX vendor will reach out to the business community to find corporate partners willing to share data during the trial program. The contractor will share details of the program and DHS at that time will be able to receive and give feedback, DiNucci said.
DHS has indicated that the system will be supported by fees, but who pays for the fees must still be worked out, and DiNucci said companies that participate in the pilot will have some input on that question.
DHS officials have suggested that companies could benefit by getting faster clearance for their goods from customs agencies around the world.
The two lawmakers denounced DHS for “moving forward blindly on security initiatives without consulting the very industry representatives that it will call upon to assist it when and if a terrorist attack were to occur.” They asked Chertoff to provide details of its procurement plans, the cost of the program and identify the source of its spending authority.
Asked if a giant data repository of commercial transactions would provide one-stop shopping for security needs and substitute for industry requirements to file multiple types of advance shipment data to the government, DiNucci emphasized that GTX is viewed as the next-generation of targeting five to 10 years from now.
DiNucci did not rule out an expanded mission for a global data warehouse, including collecting data to improve import safety or to provide seamless entry and exit for goods by reducing regulatory red tape.
Two industry representatives on COAC expressed concern that GTX is yet another burden being placed on industry to prevent a terrorist attack without consideration to whether the information can effectively be used.
“From a security point of view it’s layering. From my point of view, it’s piling on. And the pile is getting too high,” said Anthony Barone, director of global logistics policy for Pfizer.
CBP Commissioner Ralph Basham stressed that GTX will be purely voluntary.
“We have to show that there is added benefit, value” to a push-pull system, he said. “It’s going to have to prove that it provides benefit to governments and to the trade.” ' Eric Kulisch