Congress forces cargo safety

After several years of criticism about the lack of reliable systems to detect potentially hazardous cargo shipped through U.S. ports, the recently passed Security and Accountability for Every (SAFE) Port Act significantly boosts the Homeland Security Department's capabilities to improve those systems.

SAFE requires future versions of the Automated Targeting Systems (ATS) to use smart features such as more complex algorithms and real-time intelligence to identify high-risk containers rather than rule sets that are updated periodically.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee complained about ATS last year, citing a DHS inspector general report that states the system didn’t reach expectations. The information supplied to ATS was insufficient to allow inspection of every container without bringing trade to a standstill.

The legislation also requires that ATS be able to electronically compare manifest data to cargo bound for the United States and to electronically identify, compile and compare select data elements with target cargo for either more intensive inspection or to speed its release.

Three foreign seaports will host the testing of integrated scanning systems using nonintrusive imaging equipment and radiation detection equipment. The ports should be identified by the end of the year.

The act also directs DHS to establish the International Trade Data System. ITDS will provide a Web portal through which federal agencies can collect and distribute electronic import and export data, with the goal of eliminating redundant information.

ITDS has been in development for many years. It is a major part of the Customs and Border Protection’s Automated Commercial Environment initiative.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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