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Industry Tries Driving another Stake through 100% Cargo Scanning

June 23, 2014
Like a biennial vampire, the lifeless mandate of 100% cargo scanning gets resurrected only to be reburied for another two years.

It’s hard enough to get 70 people to agree on something, but to get 70 organizations of people to agree on something—that’s something. In the case of the 100% container scanning provision of the Homeland Security Act, the diversity of organizations agreeing to oppose it every two years when it reintroduces itself to the Department of Homeland Security for reconsideration is impressive. These opponents include distributors, farmers, importers, manufacturers, retailers, transportation and logistics providers and wholesalers. The National Retail Federation must have this regular reintroduction marked on its calendar so they can draft another letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security for these organizations to sign. MH&L has reported on this effort since 2006. This year’s letter was addressed to Jeh Johnson, explaining yet again why 100% container scanning would be bad for the economy and ineffective for security.

“This provision would have a significantly negative impact on global commerce and cause significant conflict with the governments of our foreign trading partners, many of which have stated their opposition to the requirement previously,” the letter states. It goes on to enumerate their rationale:

1. The statute does not define what “scanned” means. For example, does scan mean simply taking a reading or image of a given container, or does it also require an analysis of the reading or image to determine if the container may be released or held for further inspection?

2. Without such analysis, the “scan” would be pointless, yet the statute is silent on this point, as well as the key question of who is to perform such analysis. What resources would CBP’s National Targeting Center require to analyze scans taken of the 10-plus million maritime cargo containers that are bound for the United States each year?

3. What are the standards for the applicable scanning technology?

4. Who is to pay for the capital cost of the scanning equipment?

5. Who is to operate, maintain and monitor the equipment? Who is to pay for the operation and maintenance of the equipment?

6. What protocols are to be used in the foreign ports when a container is scanned?

7. What is the role of the Customs and other relevant governmental authorities in all those nations around the world that ship goods to the United States?

8. Does DHS have the consent of these foreign governments to such a mandatory regime?

9. What would the United States’ response be if and when foreign governments insist on a reciprocal or “mirror image” requirement that all U.S. containerized exports be scanned?

How long will this biennial skeet shoot involving industry and the Dept. of Homeland Security continue?

“They’ll keep going through this exercise until congress decides to finally repeal the mandate,” Jonathan Gold told me. He’s vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation, and he and the interests he represents would love for congress to do that so our representatives can refocus their energy on the substantial trade and security gaps that continue to go unaddressed.

“Customs and border protection already has a very stringent set of criteria they use to determine risk,” Gold continued. “They’ve been doing risk based screening for years and continue to evolve it.  This is a U.S. mandate but doesn’t affect other foreign cargos that have gone through the ports. How do you manage cargo for those foreign governments that don’t have the requirement? It means a lot when the secretary addresses his letter to congress saying we want a waiver again. The fact we still have to worry about this every two years instead of looking at other options continues to concern industry.”

As you’ll see in the new video gallery we just posted on scanning (click HERE to go there), this is a technology with many permutations and practitioners. Requiring 100% scanning of cargo is meaningless without a clear understanding of what that means and who is responsible. Reintroducing the same idea every two years and expecting different results is a variation on the definition of insanity--or politics.