Lawmaker Blasts DHS For Not Meeting Port Cargo Scanning Deadline
A U.S. lawmaker warned that calamitous repercussions could result from a Homeland Security Department decision to give itself more time to implement a 2007 congressional mandate that all U.S.-bound cargo be checked for weapon-usable radioactive materials or other threats before leaving foreign ports, the Boston Globe reported on Tuesday (see GSN, Feb. 9).
Earlier this year, congressional investigators concluded that the department was likely to exercise the option allowed by Congress to extend the compliancy deadline from next month to July 2014.
Washington acknowledges that just 5 percent of the freight boxes arriving by ship to the United States are now checked at overseas ports for the presence of potential terrorism tools such as weapon-usable nuclear or radioactive materials.
"We're not just missing the boat, we could be missing the bomb," Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said. "The reality is that detonating a nuclear bomb in the United States is at the top of al-Qaida's terrorist targets."
Markey alleged that the Homeland Security Department was not making a sincere attempt to meet the requirements set before it by Congress.
Homeland Security officials contend that expanding checks at international seaports would be expensive and cumbersome to implement from a diplomatic, administrative and technical standpoint. The full cost of coming into full compliance with the law is disputed, with estimates varying widely from $200 million to $16 billion.
Homeland Security "has concluded that 100 percent scanning of incoming maritime cargo is neither the most efficient nor cost-effective approach to securing our global supply chain," according to DHS spokesman Matt Chandler.
The department "continues to work collaboratively with industry, federal partners, and the international community to expand these programs and our capability to detect, analyze, and report on nuclear and radiological materials," the spokesman said, continuing that "we are more secure than ever before."
The department has employed a "risk-based approach" for the screening of maritime cargo. The approach calls for extra scrutiny on freight sent from 58 of the most active international shipping hubs, including Dubai and Hong Kong (Bobby Calvan, Boston Globe
, June 12).
Meanwhile, Homeland Security is also having trouble meeting a separate mandate that all U.S.-bound international cargo on passenger and freight aircraft be scanned prior to liftoff for weapons of mass destruction and other dangerous materials (see GSN
, March 15).
Following a call by the Transportation Security Administration for public comment on its plan, a number of airlines responded that meeting the deadline of the close of 2011 would cause "significant disruptions in the air cargo supply chain," according to a May assessment by the Government Accountability Office released on Monday. The DHS agency responded by suggesting a new compliance deadline of December 2012.
The agency reported "that it is difficult to verify the accuracy of the self-reported screening data provided by passenger air carriers used to determine the extent to which screening has been conducted in foreign countries," according to the GAO report. "Further, there is no requirement for all-cargo carriers to report data comparable to passenger air carrier screening data, even though most inbound cargo is shipped into the United States by all-cargo carriers."
The congressional watchdog office recommended that TSA officials examine the expenses and pluses of mandating that air cargo companies provide to the United States their screening information on U.S.-bound freight.
Having this information in hand might allow the Transportation Security Administration to "determine whether this additional data could enhance its efforts to identify potential risks for inbound air cargo, develop cost effective strategies and measures to manage these risks, and provide additional assurance that all-cargo carriers are complying with TSA’s enhanced screening requirements," the GAO report says (Government Accountability Office release
, May 2012).