Spokesman: McCain cargo security policies mirror DHS strategy
A John McCain administration would seek to enhance and complete the border management and cargo security programs begun by the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs during the past six years, a campaign representative told customs brokers gathered in Washington on Monday.
Democrats in Congress have criticized the DHS strategy of targeting only high-risk inbound shipments for inspection and pushed through a law requiring 100 percent inspection of ocean containers at foreign ports by 2012 and mid-2010 for cargo on passenger aircraft.
McCain would continue to build up existing programs, emphasize more effective and efficient screening of cargo and ensure adequate resources for DHS programs, said spokesman Brian Goebel, president of homeland security consulting firm Sentinel HS Group and a former high-level official at Customs and Border Protection. He spoke at the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America mid-year conference.
The Republican senator’s homeland security policy would be based on using risk-management practices and layered security, appointing top managers for DHS, strengthening private sector partnerships and working closely with foreign trade partners, Goebel said.
Importers and exporters should expect to see improvements to the Container Security Initiative to make sure the right containers are selected for inspection and that CBP teams are stationed in the correct overseas ports, he said. Other areas of emphasis will be to increase the effectiveness of the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, Free and Secure Trade expedited cross-border trucking program, and the Megaports Initiative for donating radiation detection and X-ray type scanning machines to foreign governments.
Goebel said after his presentation that the administration would deal with the 100-percent scanning mandate from Congress by consulting closely with the career leadership at CBP on the pros and cons of scanning and whether it should be broadened or simply used as an extra security layer for a limited number of high-risk trade lanes.
DHS has resisted implementing across-the-board scanning of containers because of widespread concerns that the logistical and technical challenges of laying out machinery and routing thousands of containers for inspections in congested facilities with space limitations would severely hamstring trade. It argues a scan-all approach also fails to capture transshipped cargo and presents enormous implementation costs for governments and industry. Pilot studies indicate that hardware installation alone would cost several million dollars per truck lane, and the department has said it would take an enormous amount of manpower to try and analyze all the images in real-time.
DHS has instead informed Congress that it intends to conduct 100 percent scanning operations only on specific high-risk trade lanes.
CBP Deputy Commissioner Jayson Ahern said in a luncheon speech that at least 27 countries are prepared to call for reciprocal scanning of U.S. exports if the United States moves ahead with efforts to require overseas terminals to scan all U.S.-bound cargo. He suggested that such a massive security program would harm U.S. businesses because already crowded ports would be hard-pressed to process cargo in a timely manner.
Goebel said a McCain administration would diligently work with foreign governments to do as much high-risk cargo screening as possible overseas, taking a collaborative approach instead of trying to impose a mandate.
McCain would also treat CBP’s information technology modernization and personnel as budget priorities, he added.
On the trade front, he reiterated McCain’s support for free trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea, and reforming agriculture subsidies that have made it difficult to obtain a global trade pact through the World Trade Organization.
Goebel said former CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner, who originally supported and advised Rudy Giuliani in his unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination, had intended to address the NCBFAA conference on behalf of the McCain campaign, but had a schedule conflict. ' Eric Kulisch