Monday, December 7, 2009

Feds Plan to Extend 100 Percent Box Scan Deadline to 2014

The federal government plans to extend the deadline for reaching 100 percent scanning of containers at foreign ports being loaded on United States-bound vessels, citing funding and technology limitations.

US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a US Senate panel last week that due to these limitations, the scanning deadline called for in a 2007 law that sought to close potential homeland security loopholes following the Sept. 11. 2001 terrorist attacks could not be met.

“In order to implement the 100 percent scanning requirement by the 2012 deadline, DHS would need significant resources for greater manpower and technology, technologies that do not currently exist, and the redesign of many ports,” Napolitano told members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday.

While Napolitano did not offer specifics as to the extensions, a Government Accounting Office report issued the same day said that the government will offer a blanket extension through July 2014 to all foreign ports.

In 2007 Congress passed and President George Bush signed the 9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act, which adopted about 80 percent of the security recommendations made by the Congressional 9/11 Commission. Included in these was a recommendation to provide 100 percent scanning by July 2012 of all US-bound containers before being loaded aboard vessels at foreign ports. The law, however, provided criteria by which the DHS Secretary could grant two-year extensions for ports that could not meet the deadline, including technology limitations, incompatible port facilities and marked disruptions to the flow of cargo.

The GAO report found that the potential to disrupt the flow of trade and limitations of existing scanning technology would apply to all foreign ports and thus warrant the blanket deadline extension.

Napolitano told the Senate panel that a $100 million Customs and Border Protection pilot scanning program at five foreign ports found that port configuration problems were prevalent and presented difficulties to achieving 100 percent scanning. Problems with the efficacy of the high-tech equipment in a marine environment were also noted.
The secretary also told the panel that total DHS bill for 100 percent scanning at 700 foreign ports, not including those costs borne by foreign governments or ports, could reach nearly $17 billion, or about $8 million for each of the 2,100 trade lanes servicing the US.

“Installing equipment and placing personnel at all of these ports– even the tiny ones– would strain government resources without a guarantee of results,” Napolitano told the senators. The CBP pilot program, according to the GAO report, was able to achieve no greater than 86 percent scanning of container headed to the US, despite the relatively small size of three of the ports in the program. At the two large ports in the program, Hong Kong and Busan, South Korea– where scanning was only implemented at one terminal and one gate– scanning configurations could not sustain more scanning levels of more than 5 percent.

Napolitano, who did not say when her agency would officially seek the 2014 extensions, also left the door open for resetting the deadline to an earlier date if technology breakthroughs were developed.

Senators on the panel, some staunch supporters of the original 2007 law and 2012 deadline, appeared sympathetic to the problems expressed by the secretary.

"I have my questions about whether that's doable," panel chair Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va, said of the 2012 deadline. "That does not mean that we should not continue to strengthen our security protocols to prevent high-risk cargo from entering this country, whether by land, sea or air."