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Marine Log

June 12, 2008

Senate hearing on container scanning

More questions are surfacing about U.S. requirements that call for the physical scanning of 100% of all U.S. bound shipping containers.

The World Customs Organization (WCO) has released the results of an independent study that said the requirement would mean would mean "pivotal and costly changes" and hopes to offer the U.S. positive counter-proposals that that would result in the 100% scanning legislation being repealed.

Repeal could be tough to sell.

A Senate subcommittee held a hearing yesterday on "Supply Chain Security: Secure Freight Initiative and the Implementation of 100 Percent Scanning."

Subcommittee Chairman Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) noted that after the 9/11 attacks, the federal government installed equipment to scan 100 percent of passengers and baggage boarding a plane and declared that "it should not take another attack on our country for the federal government to secure our ports."

"To that end," he said, "Congress passed a law last year requiring by the year 2012 all shipping containers coming into our ports to be scanned for nuclear weapons and radiation before they reach our shores."

He noted that Administration witnesses would testify that the July 2012 deadline will not be met and said the "administration's approach to securing our ports is unacceptable."

"While the Administration gets the techology in place for one hundred percent scanning, we also need to find additional ways to increase security at our ports," said the Senator. He promised to "soon introduce legislation which will make real improvements to our port security programs—and keep our economy and families safe."

If repeal of the scan-every-box legislation may be a tough political sell, actually implementing it could be problematical to say the least.

Read the testimony of yesterday's witnesses at the hearing and you'll understand why.

They included Deputy Commissioner Jayson Ahern, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who primarily addressed the Secure Freight Initiative (SFI), a pilot container scanning program at a small number of key foreign ports.

Commissioner Ahern testified that the SFI deployments in Honduras, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan "indicate that scanning U.S.-bound maritime containers is possible on a limited scale."

"However," he continued, "SFI operations in these initial locations benefited from considerable host nation cooperation, low transshipment rates, and technology and infrastructure costs covered primarily by the United States Government--accommodating and supportive conditions that do not exist in all ports shipping to the United States."

"Although DHS and DOE funded the initial phase of SFI deployments," said Commissioner Ahern, "the equipment, IT, and personnel costs associated with expanding the program to cover all U.S. bound traffic from the more than 700 different ports that ship to the United States--some significantly larger and more complex than any of the first three pilots--means that the benefit of immediate widespread deployments must be weighed against the Department's funding needs to address other homeland security priorities."

The next witness may just have the longest job title of any in the administration. David Huizenga is Assistant Deputy Administrator, Office of International Material Protection and Cooperation, Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration, U.S. Department of Energy.

He is involved with the Megaports Initiative.

The goal of the Megaports Initiative is to scan as much container traffic at a port as possible for radiation (including imports, exports, and transshipments) regardless of destination. It's currently operational in 12 ports (including the three ports selected as pilots under the Department of Homeland Security's Secure Freight Initiative and as mandated by the 2006 SAFE Port Act).

Mr. Huizunga said that in addition to the positive lessons learned from the SFI pilot ports, "there are still several challenges to implementing 100% scanning of all US-bound containers at overseas ports. We believe that scanning US-bound containers overseas is possible at some locations; however, scanning every US-bound container at a foreign port before it arrives in the United States presents significant operational, technical, cost, and diplomatic challenges."

"A critical aspect to implementation of scanning initiatives," he stressed, "is host nation and terminal operator buy-in. I cannot underscore enough that SFI or Megaports Initiative implementation cannot be successful without the partnership of the host nation, port authority, terminal operators, and other key stakeholders at the port. We have been very successful where we have strong partnership with our host nation partners. Alternatively, we have had considerable implementation challenges where we have not."

He said that and the Implementation of 100 Percent Scanning Senate Meantime, the legislation remains in place.

The final witness was Mr. Stephen L. Caldwell, Director, Homeland Security and Justice Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office,

His testimony is now available as a GAO report,

GAO has identified challenges in nine areas that are related to the continuation of the SFI pilot program and the longer-term 100 percent scanning requirement:

Workforce planning: The SFI pilot program could generate an increased quantity of scan data. Therefore, more CBP officers will be required to review and analyze data for participating seaports.

Host nation examination practices: The SAFE Port and 9/11 Acts require DHS to develop standards for the scanning systems, but CBP lacks information on host nation equipment and practices.

Measuring performance: CBP has had difficulties defining performance measures for its container security programs; therefore, it will be difficult to assess if 100 percent scanning achieves increased security.

Resource responsibilities: Neither the SAFE Port Act nor the 9/11 Act specifies whether the United States would bear the costs of implementing 100 percent scanning.

Logistics: Space constraints can require seaports to place scanning equipment miles from where cargo containers are stored, and some containers are only available for scanning for a short period of time and may be difficult to access.

Technology and infrastructure: Environmental conditions can damage equipment and cause delays, and infrastructure capacity and equipment compatibility have presented difficulties in the SFI pilot program.

Use and ownership of data: Legislation specifies that scan data should be available to CBP officials, but the data are often generated and collected by foreign seaports and, in some cases, will require international agreements for transfer to CBP officials.

Consistency with risk management: International partners state that 100 percent scanning is inconsistent with accepted risk management principles and diverts resources away from other security threats.

Reciprocity and trade concerns: Foreign governments could call for reciprocity of 100 percent scanning, requiring the United States to scan cargo containers, and some view this requirement as a barrier to trade.

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