Playing catch-up
Homeland Security fails to follow through on congressional cross-border directive, leaving security gaps in the program

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor

As the cross-border trucking pilot program with Mexico entered its sixth week, lawmakers pressed the Department of Homeland Security to issue enforcement guidelines to law enforcement – something Congress mandated in 2006.

Section 703 of the Safe Port Act of 2006 mandated that the Department of Homeland Security issue guidelines for federal, state and local law enforcement officials on how to identify noncompliance with federal laws that apply to cross-border trucking.

Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security Rep. Peter King of New York and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan wrote a letter to the secretary of Homeland Security in late November 2011 asking why the agency had not complied with the mandate.

“We are encouraged that the Homeland Security Committee is taking the initiative to follow up on the status of the guidelines Congress called for years ago,” said OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Laura O’Neill.

“With the rate at which they’re forging ahead with this program, one would think the DHS would be working in lockstep with DOT to determine how enforcement should work. Unfortunately, it’s open the border first, regulate later.”

The pair sent a letter on Nov. 21, 2011, to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano asking about the agency’s “apparent failure” to issue the guidelines.

“Given the numerous regulations and strict oversight your department places over our domestic trucking industry, we would hope that your department would take an equally active role in foreign carriers operating within the United States,” King and Miller wrote.

The pair recognized the continued need for more resources by Homeland Security both at the ports of entry and all points in between.

The letter acknowledges the intention of the pilot program to increase the volumes of trucks crossing at the border. However, without the mandated guidance in place, the agency could be creating a “security and safety issue,” the lawmakers stated in the letter.

“Therefore, we want to make certain that the department is taking all precautions and steps necessary to ensure that we are properly and thoroughly vetting the trucks and drivers entering this country, and providing necessary guidance to our federal, state and local partners who will encounter these trucks in their various jurisdictions during the course of their duties,” they wrote.

King and Miller closed the letter by requesting a written response outlining the agencies’ guidelines on the issue within 30 days. As of press time there had been no response from the agency.

The cross-border trucking pilot program officially began on Oct. 18, 2011, with the first truck operated by Transportes Olympic crossing the border days later. The agency credited Transportes for 18 months of operation in the previous cross-border demonstration program and granted the motor carrier permanent authority.

A second motor carrier, Moises Alvarez Perez, was granted provisional operating authority on Dec. 28, 2011. As of press time, those were the only two motor carriers operating in the program.

One other motor carrier, Grupo Behr, passed the pre-authority safety audit only to meet significant pushback during the Federal Register notice’s comment period. The agency has Grupo under further review. LL