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American Shipper

Senate panel gives DHS decent marks for maritime security

Senate panel gives DHS decent marks for maritime security

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At a hearing in which criticism of the Department of Homeland Security was noticeably muted compared to recent years, senators stated that the nation has made substantial progress in maritime security but that more needed to be done.

   Stephen Caldwell, director of maritime security and Coast Guard issues for the Government Accountability Office, agreed with a Bush administration official that DHS has met at least half of the mandates in the past year since passage of the SAFE Port Act, and that the department is on track to complete the rest of the tasks spelled out in the law.

   He gave the department an “incomplete” as a grade for its performance since the 9/11 attacks, an assessment he also gave at a House hearing two weeks ago.

   The investigative arm of Congress still has concerns about some programs, most notably those involving new mandates for 100 percent automated inspection, port worker credentialing, radiation screening programs, plans for post-incident reopening of ports and long-range vessel tracking.

   Caldwell joined Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in suggesting that Congress’ recent demand to image all containers at overseas ports within five years could actually reduce security rather than enhance it.

   The DHS strategy of risk management “forces you to prioritize. If you pay attention to all containers, you’re not focused on any one container,” Caldwell said.

   Trying to implement an all-inclusive inspection regime raises a host of challenges, such as the possibility of countries not cooperating if the United States doesn’t reciprocate and scan all its outbound cargo, the fact that the technology is still unproven to handle such volumes without slowing cargo flows, resource requirements and who pays for the infrastructure and operations, and who pays for and owns the data generated by the detection systems, he said.

   Congress’ insistence on ramming through a scan-all requirement could help fray the good partnerships DHS has forged with the international community and the private sector, Caldwell cautioned. Countries that participate in the Container Security Initiative to selectively inspect suspicious sea boxes at U.S. request and trusted importers that voluntarily tighten their supply chain controls to gain expedited cargo release may back out of their security arrangements with the U.S. government once they calculate there is no added benefit to taking extra precautions if every container is going to be inspected anyway, he said.

   The Secure Freight Initiative is a program under which pilot tests are taking place in a handful of foreign ports to test an integrated system for capturing container images and readings from radiation detectors for every container passing through a terminal or terminal gate, and electronically transmitting the data to the department’s Automated Targeting System to check for anomalies that might require further inspection prior to vessel loading.

   Scanning all boxes in every port is a daunting prospect the department doesn’t favor, but the pilot program should provide lessons that will allow non-intrusive inspection of a large subset of U.S.-bound containers, Stewart Baker, assistant secretary for policy, testified.

   The demonstration program has been phased in over the past six months and became fully operational at three ports on Friday. Bottlenecks for the drive-through security scans have not materialized so far, but operators have had some weather-related problems, Baker said. The intense heat in Port Qasim, Pakistan — where temperatures can reach 110 — degrees has caused hiccups with the equipment and heavy downpours at Port Cortes in Honduras have temporarily disabled scanning machines, he said.

   The Port of Southampton in the United Kingdom is also a Secure Freight test site.

   DHS expects to encounter a lot of complexity migrating the scan-all concept to bigger ports with large numbers of truck lanes or transshipment activity. Port layouts are not the same and there is no one-size-fits-all deployment strategy for not impeding cargo flow.

   “If you’ve seen one port, you’ve seen one port,” Baker said.

   Shippers' reactions to the program vary. Exporters in Pakistan prefer to ship from Port Qasim to reduce the likelihood of their goods being stopped for inspection in the United States, while some shippers in Honduras are moving cargo to other ports to avoid the extra security fee for inspections, he said.

   DHS continues to explore how to integrate container security devices into its supply chain security program. The devices might have limited value in determining whether unauthorized openings of container doors took place during transit in specific trade lanes, Baker said. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Ralph Basham said last week a document listing desired CSD specifications for vendors to follow would be issued in mid-November, and Baker said he anticipates testing on CSDs to begin within a few months. The agency has said that existing devices have not met its performance requirements yet.

   Collins pressed for completion of the so-called “10+2” rulemaking that would require a dozen pieces of additional information from importers and carriers about their manufacturers, consignees and box status 24 hours prior to vessel loading overseas, saying it could be a tool in helping protect consumers from dangerous products. The data could help identify products from unknown manufactures or those with a history of violations in the same way that security information is used to target boxes for inspection, she said.

   Baker said the department plans to complete its review of the security-filing proposal and send it to the Office of Management and Budget within two weeks. As reported by Shippers’ Newswire on Monday, Basham suggested the much-anticipated rulemaking would not be published until early next year, under the best-case scenario.

   The raft of new security measures such as the security filing, 100 percent scanning and talk of a giant data mining project for international commercial transactions, has other government and industry partners “starting to ask whether the United States has a layered strategy or a strategy of layers,” Caldwell said.

   The hearing coincided with the first day port workers could enroll for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), which is debuting at the Port of Wilmington in Delaware. TWIC is designed as a common, fingerprint and photo-based credential that can be used by longshoremen, truckers and others to gain access to secure areas in multiple ports in lieu of obtaining port specific passes.

   The Transportation Security Administration recently identified 11 other ports that will follow Wilmington in launching card enrollment operations between now and the end of November. DHS originally was supposed to have the program up and running in the first 10 ports by July 1. Collins, the ranking member and former chairman of the committee, noted that the department would almost certainly miss the legislative deadline to implement TWIC in the next 40 ports by Jan. 1.

   The program has been beset by technical, budget and bureaucratic delays during the past three years. Baker testified that TWIC “is probably the most sophisticated biometric credential that anyone has introduced in the entire industry. He acknowledged some early attempts to set misguided technical standards slowed the program down, but that standard setting has improved with the help of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

   Baker said the department believes it can get an estimated 750,000 workers enrolled in the program, and issued cards by next September’s deadline. Problems with the contact-less card reader technology means that automated identification will have to wait and the photo ID portion of the card will be initially used for port access. The readers will be deployed in the future once the technology proves out in upcoming testing.

   Technology development may proceed with fits and starts to ensure performance, but “I see no show stoppers in the roll out of TWIC,” Baker said.

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