U.S. to ratchet up security requirements for importers
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will take several steps to bolster security surrounding inbound cargo shipments this year, Asa Hutchinson said Friday during a meeting of the Customs Bureau’s Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations.
The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection plans to tighten rules for participating in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) trusted supply chain program by requiring importers and their carriers to use high-tech, tamper-evident container door seals. Until now use of such seals has been voluntary in most instances, but is a requirement on the southern border for companies that want to participate in the Free and Secure Trade program in which pre-approved truck shipments electronically submit their manifests and virtually get waved through checkpoints.
Under C-TPAT, importers, carriers, manufacturers and others pledge to adopt industry best practices for security and require similar commitments from their business partners in exchange for less hassle getting clearance for their entries. Hutchinson said DHS wants to make sure companies are following through with their promises and would step up hiring of security specialists to speed up Customs’ process for validating corporate performance.
Customs has completed 141 C-TPAT validations and has 711 underway, according to Jayson Ahern, director of field operations. The border security agency plans to have another 100 personnel in place capable of conducting security validations, comprised of 40 to 60 security specialists and the rest field managers who will receive extra training to do validations, up from 23 currently reviewing corporate security measures, Customs officials said. The agency projects it will complete at least 300 pending validations this year, said Bob Perez, who heads the C-TPAT program.
“We have to increase our validating and security program. I’d like to see a more robust validation process with your help this year,” Hutchinson told COAC, whose members are trade and government affairs specialists for major transportation and import/export companies.
Last September ABC News arranged to smuggle a shipment of depleted uranium in a container full of furniture from Asia through the Port of Los Angles-Long Beach to test Customs’ targeting ability. The story illustrates the need to hold companies accountable for their security measures, Hutchinson said. The company that allowed the container to be placed on a ship belonged to C-TPAT.
“The C-TPAT partner didn’t do its job in doing the checks and having the security measures. So part of the breakdown was with one of our C-TPAT partners,” Hutchinson said, referring to Maersk Logistics.
“So if we are going to have a reliance upon our partnerships in doing these security measures, we have to be able to measure. You want us to measure how the government is doing and we need to use the same standard for our private sector partners,” he said. “If you don’t do a good job there will be those advocating much more stringent measures,” he said. Some members of Congress continue to call for physically inspecting all containers.
Asked if C-TPAT will eventually move from a voluntary to a mandatory program, Hutchinson said, “Our philosophy is partnerships are better than regulation and regulation is better than a government takeover of security.”
Of the 5,500 companies that have signed up for C-TPAT so far, 3,300 are importers, 800 are carriers, 1,100 are brokers and forwarders, 70 are foreign manufacturers and 30 are U.S. marine port and terminal operators, said Bob Perez, who heads the C-TPAT program.
In line with Hutchinson’s desire to raise the bar for C-TPAT, the COAC will review the program it helped create two years ago and issue recommendations to Customs and DHS by the next COAC meeting in April, said Microsoft’s Renee Stein.
Hutchinson top aide Stewart Verdery echoed the need to solidify the enforcement and validation processes “so if there is a (terrorist) incident, we can go to Congress and to the American people and say that our systems, notwithstanding the incident, are sound” and don’t warrant a complete shut down of trade.
Finally, Hutchinson said the department is immediately chartering a container working group that will spend the next six months developing recommendations on how to enhance the security of containerized cargo. Elaine Dezenski, newly appointed director of cargo and trade policy, will head the effort and include the trade community in the process.
Trade groups are still frustrated that more companies have not joined C-TPAT, despite the seemingly impressive number of enrollees, because if they can’t find suppliers and transportation providers that can be trusted with their goods, then they cannot guarantee the integrity of their supply chain and may not be eligible for full C-TPAT benefits.
Perez said the $15 million increase budgeted by the administration for C-TPAT in fiscal year 2005 will enable the agency to do more outreach, but he noted “C-TPAT is not for everyone. It is only for those companies that are willing to make a serious commitment” to improve security.
A COAC member said DHS and Customs could build a more persuasive case for its cooperative security programs and get more companies to participate if it would share data on the success of its enforcement activities. Customs officials said a direct comparison of inspection levels and efficiency is difficult because data quality on inspection levels, efficiency and targeting of high-risk containers prior to March 2003 is poor.
“We don’t have complete confidence in the historical data prior to March 1” because it comes from three separate organizations — Customs, Immigration and Naturalization and Animal and Plant Health Inspection — since merged into Customs.
Douglas Browning, deputy commissioner of Customs, said the agency had received about 12 million ocean bills of lading since the 24-hour advance notice requirement went into effect at the tail end of 2002 and only 1 percent of those had data problems that temporarily held up loading on ships. Customs officials stressed that they are working hard to develop a better baseline and system for analyzing statistics so they can measure their enforcement performance and how efficiently they clear shipments. Ahern said he now has a group devoted full-time to measuring Customs’ workload and results.
Ahern said the agency was reluctant to publicly disclose targeting rates for high-risk shipments.
Betsy Durant, executive director of trade compliance and facilitation at Customs, told American Shipper Customs averages about two to four “do not load” messages per day out of thousands of manifests it receives through the Automated Manifest System. Twenty hold notices in a day is considered high, she said.
“We usually see a spike when we start enforcing a new data element,” she said. Few loads ever miss their voyage because carriers tend to quickly correct any missing or faulty information, she added.
Hutchinson said he would try to compile a report for COAC to quantify how Customs is enforcing regulations.