DHS moves forward on data exchange project; business groups object

Published 14 December 2007

DHS wants to create Global Trade Exchange (GTX) — a data warehouse which would collect large volumes of commercial-transaction data from all parties involved in the production and movement of international shipments; trade groups say sharing confidential business data with foreign governments in the exchange would be a problem not only in terms of protecting U.S. competitiveness but also for national security reasons

DHS wants to create a new data warehouse for exchanging trade information, a move U.S. businesses and trade associations criticize. The House has appropriated $15 million for the Global Trade Exchange (GTX) for fiscal 2008, and Secretary Michael Chertoff said last month that DHS will soon release a solicitation for test demonstrations of the concept. The scope of the project is not yet known, but industry representatives suggest it could cost tens of millions of dollars. Washington Technology’s Alice Lipowicz writes that DHS intends to move forward, but that there are strong undercurrents which may slow the warehouse’s deployment. Several trade organizations are asking for a hold on establishing the global exchange until the idea can be fully vetted. The trade groups want to ensure the security and confidentiality of the data and clarify its ownership. “The global trade exchange has been created in a vacuum,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policies at the National Retail Federation. “It is very disconcerting.” Some lawmakers agree. “For months, Congress and industry stakeholders have been trying to learn about this initiative without success,” Representative Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, and Representative Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the panel, wrote in a 19 November letter to Chertoff. “The department is moving forward blindly on security initiatives without consulting with the very industry representatives that it will call upon to assist it if and when a terrorist attack were to occur,” they wrote.

DHS has not yet taken action on an industry request to endorse a more modest plan for maritime security information sharing. “Getting the government to help stand up a maritime information sharing and analysis center has been difficult,” said Philip Murray, chairman of the Maritime Security Council, a twenty-year-old nonprofit group of shippers, port authorities, and other maritime stakeholders. Several other information-sharing and analysis centers have received federal funding, but neither the Coast Guard nor the Navy has been willing to support a $2 million plan to set up an information exchange for situational awareness among more than 700 worldwide ports, Murray said.

Lipowicz writes that the global trade exchange idea is being promoted at the highest levels of DHS. Former deputy secretary Michael Jackson and other Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have promoted the idea for two years as part of the Secure Freight Initiative. The warehouse would be