Business continuity and disaster recoveryDHS: 2012 deadline for U.S.-bound cargo screening unrealistic

Published 13 June 2008

DHS says that Congressionally mandated deadline for 100 percent inspection of U.S.-bound cargo containers is unrealistic; what is more, it is unnecessary

A 2012 deadline to screen all U.S.-bound shipping cargo for radiological and nuclear materials is unrealistic, a Bush administration official told lawmakers Thursday. A law passed last summer mandates that DHS screen all cargo headed for the United States. Among the major obstacles to meeting the deadline: Trained U.S. officials would need to be deployed to more than 700 foreign ports to operate screening equipment. The benefits of screening all cargo bound for the United States has long been challenged by the Bush administration. Jay Ahern, deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), told lawmakers that the plan is not a good use of taxpayer money.

About 11.5 million containers come into the United States each year. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), said that knowing what is inside them could prevent a disaster. “An attack on a U.S. port, or even a foreign port, would affect our entire economy, not to mention the safety of surrounding communities,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “I am deeply concerned that — more than six years after 9/11 — the Bush administration is back once again to report on more problems.” In an interview with AP, Ahern compared the screening process to how a medical technician operates X-ray machinery — a trained eye must be present to see what is being screened. No technology allows a computer to do all the screening, he said. Total screening also could significantly slow commerce at busy ports, Ahern said, and at least twenty-seven countries and major industry associations have significant concerns with the law. Ahern said it makes sense to do such screening in high-risk countries, such as Pakistan, but not in every country that ships to the United States. The “layered” approach to security that the administration already has in place is more effective, he said.