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House Approves New Ship Cargo Screening Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives this week approved a bill aimed at streamlining and improving U.S. efforts to prevent dangerous materials that could be used in a terrorist attack from entering the country through its port system (see GSN, June 27).

The Securing Maritime Activities through Risk-based Targeting for Port Security Act would encourage more cooperation in the realm of U.S. seaport security responsibilities by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Homeland Security Department's Customs and Border Protection agency, according to a press release from the bill's sponsor, Representative Candice Miller (R-Mich.).

H.R. 4251 authorizes the Homeland Security Department to acknowledge as acceptable foreign nations' Trusted Shipper Programs, and it permits the Coast Guard to similarly sign off on foreign governments' port security programs.

The SMART Port Security Act passed by a wide margin of 402 to 21 and is now awaiting Senate action, according to the release.

"A major disruption at one of the nation’s ports, especially a terrorist attack, is a high consequence event that has the potential to cripple the global supply chain and could severely damage our economy," said Miller, chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, in provided remarks.

"We simply cannot afford to ignore threats to our nation’s maritime security. To that end, SMART Port Security Act builds on the work of the 2006 SAFE Port Act to enhance risk-based security measures overseas before the threat reaches our shores, emphasizes a stronger collaborative environment between CBP and the U.S.C.G. in sharing port security duties, and it leverages the maritime security work of our trusted allies," she went on.

In 2007, Congress directed the Homeland Security Department to by July 2012 ensure that 100 percent of U.S.-bound shipping cargo was scanned prior to departure at foreign seaports for weapon usable nuclear and radioactive materials. The order has yet to be implemented and the department has signaled it will make use of the option provided to it by U.S. lawmakers to extend the mandate deadline until July 2014. At present, DHS officials are using a "layered risk-based approach" to target foreign-origin cargo assessed to represent the highest threat.

The SMART Port Security Act  would order a study on potential areas for cost efficiencies through the sharing of buildings and infrastructure by the Coast Guard and the Customs and Border Protection agency. The act additionally would order the DHS agency to utilize uniform procedures and risk-based judgments in the fielding of resources.

The bill would also require modifications to the Transportation Security Administration's Transportation Worker Identification Program in the form of new electronic credential readers designed to limit unauthorized individuals from gaining access to restricted buildings and vessels.

"We should be cognizant of the fact that CBP and the U.S.C.G. cannot intrusively scan every truck, cargo container, or bulk shipment that comes into American ports -- it is not only cost prohibitive, but would cripple the just-in-time delivery system that industry relies on to keep American commerce running," Miller said. "Instead, I believe that the security of the supply chain is maximized through the use of a risk-based methodology -- a key element of this bill" (U.S. Representative Candice Miller release, June 28).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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