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At cross purposes

Securing the U.S. border and the North American supply chain against terrorist infiltration is a daunting task. Yet when one looks at what stands in the way, it's hard not to come away with the impres...

Securing the U.S. border and the North American supply chain against terrorist infiltration is a daunting task. Yet when one looks at what stands in the way, it’s hard not to come away with the impression that some of the biggest obstacles are the same government agencies entrusted with making it happen.

Over-lapping rules from competing U.S. government agencies are confusing carriers and shippers, increasing frustration and costs, likely reducing participation, and may also reduce compliance.

To begin with, the much-touted (by our government anyway)Smart Border Accord, which is supposed to provide the framework for creating a secure and efficient border, has only been signed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It has not been signed by the U.S. Congress or other important agencies controlling the inflow of shipments to the U.S., such as the Food and Drug Administration, as Eric Couture, the top U.S. trade specialist assigned to Canada, recently pointed out during a dinner organized by Supply Chain & Logistics Canada for carriers and shippers.

Then consider the most recent regulatory announcements. The pre-notification standards recently announced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the FDA for shipments entering the U.S. has left carriers to contend with two different reporting regimes.

And yet the logistical inefficiency this creates may be for naught, according to a nugget dropped by Couture. When CBP completes the training of its border inspectors on FDA inspections and takes over that responsibility at the border, it plans to use its own, more lenient, pre-notification process. That’s good news, but why put carriers and shippers through a spring and summer of conflicting regulation in the first place?

There are also jurisdictional issues reducing the effectiveness of CBP’s much publicized Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program, which provides a supposed “fast track” through Customs for low-risk shippers and carriers that enroll in the ambitious program. But while passage through FAST-dedicated or designated lanes may indeed be expedient, getting to the lane may prove extremely slow due to congestion issues at the border crossing, and there’s little CBP can do about it. As Couture readily acknowledges, “we control the people at the border, not the infrastructure at the border.”

What is needed is a government body with overarching authority for border entry and security; a body that could have stepped in when the FDA and CBP announced different pre-notification rules and which would have the authority to resolve the infrastructure-related issues that could choke the FAST program.

Supposedly that’s the role the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)is supposed to play. But so far U.S. authorities have not done a good job explaining what should be the relationship between the TSA and CBP, the traditional guardian of U.S. ports and border crossings.

And TSA’s initial attempts at rule making have been muddled. Its late November announcement that it would allow each U.S. state to implement its own process for checking the background of drivers licensed to carry hazardous materials is a good example. As trucking executives quickly pointed out that could mean 51 distinct processes for clearing the required background checks (one for each state and the District of Columbia) taking various lengths of time with different requirements for where and how the driver can complete the process. In other words a complete, and bureaucratically created, nightmare.

That’s even more distressing when you consider the report of yet another government agency. Over the past three years the U.S. General Accounting Office had been entrusted with testing just how difficult it is to forge driver licenses and enter the U.S. Its investigators reported that they were able to obtain authentic but fraudulent driver licenses using the names, social security numbers and dates of birth of individuals publicly listed on government master deceased files. In another test the investigators counterfeited state driver licenses and birth certificates with fictitious names and then used them to enter the U.S. from Canada and other countries. CBP officials at the border never questioned the authenticity of the counterfeit documents. The investigators were even able to go so far as to use counterfeit driver licenses to buy fire arms from legitimate gun suppliers who complied with federal laws requiring instant background checks and then forge law enforcement credentials that gave them access to federal buildings. Clearly some huge problems need to be resolved without further complicating the process.

Leading carriers are committed to a secure and efficient border; they can’t afford not to be. It’s a shame that overlapping legislation by competing government agencies is standing in their

Lou Smyrlis, MCILT

Worth Repeating

“it’s better to have a high risk assessment than to get caught on a lie on a risk questionnaire. we don’t forget, we don’t forgive. we don’t have priests working for us.”

– eric couture, customs attach office, department of homeland security

Truck News

Truck News

Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.
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