Sen. Lautenberg questions DHS about shipping container security

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 6/13/2008

The U.S. can’t meet a congressional deadline to screen every shipping container entering the U.S. by 2012, a Customs and Border Protection official told the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday, June 12.

About 5 percent of the reported 11.5 million shipping containers entering the U.S. are scanned each year, and Homeland Security officials are faced with a difficult task of ramping up inspections while maintaining efficient goods movement.

Congress approved a 2007 law requiring DHS to screen shipping cargo for nuclear and radiological weapons by 2012. Such a requirement would force the government to deploy federal employees to more than 700 ports throughout the world, said Jay Ahern, deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

Instead, DHS favors a layered approach, Ahern said, applying resources to selected transportation segments with the highest levels of risk.

“We are always eager to enhance these layers and even further refine our targeting to ensure that we focus on those goods and people that represent a threat to our nation,” Ahern said. “I’m concerned, however, that while we continue to increase resources specifically for container security initiatives, we could be neglecting other areas of concern that potentially pose greater risk and vulnerability to the country.”

Fighting terrorism, Ahern said, is a concern for recipients of U.S. exports as well.

“Our foreign partners are saying, we’re just as concerned with shipments coming from the United States,” Ahern said.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, pointed out that the Government Accountability Office has shown several loopholes in the cargo security procedures, including the agency’s failure to establish a standard lock system for metal shipping containers.

“It should not take another attack on our country for the federal government to secure our ports,” Lautenberg said.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

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