Law could impede high-risk cargo screening

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GAO report

A law that requires 100 percent scanning of U.S.-bound cargo containers at foreign ports by 2012 has the potential to impede progress in identifying and tracking high-risk containers, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

GAO auditors evaluated the Homeland Security Department's efforts to identify and scan high-risk cargo at foreign seaports under the Container Security Initiative and to set up partnerships with international businesses to enhance security under the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism.

Customs and Border Protection has made progress on both programs, and as of July, more than 150 members of the World Customs Organization had signed letters of intent to implement security standards, GAO auditors wrote in a report released Aug. 15. In addition, CBP has signed agreements with New Zealand, Jordan and Canada and anticipates reaching an agreement with the European Commission next year.

However, the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act passed by Congress last year requires that all U.S.-bound ocean cargo be scanned by 2012.

GAO auditors found indications that the requirement could have a negative impact on the adoption of recently developed security standards that target high-risk cargo. "International partners have expressed to DHS and Congress that 100 percent scanning runs counter to — and could adversely impact the implementation of — international customs security standards,” the report states.

“Officials from the European Commission and CBP stated that unless additional resources are made available, 100 percent scanning could not be met,” the report states. Auditors added that money is needed to pay for increased staff, equipment and infrastructure, and it is not clear who will pay for those items.

Without additional funding, scanning all containers could dilute the focus on high-risk cargo and reduce security overall, GAO auditors said. “Given limited resources, CBP and European custom administration officials said that 100 percent scanning may provide a lower level of security if customs officers are diverted from focusing on high-risk container cargo,” the report states.

All high-risk cargo is currently scanned and reviewed thoroughly. If all containers are scanned, the reviews might not be as thorough, the GAO report states.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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