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Viewpoint: Are security programs bordering on failure?

Five years after the horrible events of 9/11 are our borders any safer? Are they more efficient?

Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis

Five years after the horrible events of 9/11 are our borders any safer? Are they more efficient?

Those have been the dual goals of the rush of border security programs from the US administration since 9/11. It’s critical that BOTH goals be reached considering not only the value of our trade with the US (more than 80% of Canada’s exports and a third of Canada’s gross domestic product are dependent upon trade with the United States, a business accounting for over $560 billion annually) but also the likelihood of another terrorist attack.

The efficiency question is easiest to answer – either trucks, which carry 70% of transborder freight by value, are getting through the border in a more efficient manner or they’re not and several studies have been conducted in recent years to find out. The results aren’t good.

Carriers were unanimous in their opinion that they have not seen any benefits (e.g. less delay at the border) as yet from the introduction of the US security measures, according to a study published last year by Transport Canada and conducted by DAMF Consultants in association with L-P Tardif & Associates. The study estimated that between one hour and one and a half hours have been added to the average transit time for truck movements crossing the US border due to the US security measures.

According to another study published by Industry Canada and Supply Chain & Logistics Canada in 2004, border delays have had a definite impact on delivery times. Only 18% of companies surveyed reported that they were not being affected by border delays versus 82% who have experienced increased wait times up to eight hours longer than before.

Our own industry-wide poll (it included the opinions of fleet managers, drivers and owner/operators) conducted last year found few in the industry believe the US security programs have met their dual target of making the border more secure and more efficient.

While 43% believed the border is now more secure, they also thought border crossings were not efficient. And the largest percentage (44%) were even more critical in their views, stating that the result of the new security measures was a border that was neither more secure nor efficient.

Keep in mind these are not members of the general public offering a snap opinion about a subject they have little connection to; these are the people who deal with border crossings on a regular basis.

Would the results have been any better had those studies been conducted this year, when everyone in the trade community had another year or two under their belt working with the new security programs? Perhaps marginally so.

There is hope that once the next generation of US Customs’ border processing technology, the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), goes live that efficiency will improve.

ACE is essentially a customized Web page which connects US Customs, the trade community, and particular government agencies by providing a single, centralized, online access point for communications and information related to cargo shipments.

According to US Customs, filing electronic manifests will reduce processing times at ports.

Let’s hope they’re right because border security is too important an issue to get mired in typical bureaucratic waffling and delays. Personally, I have my reservations. ACE’s effectiveness will in large part be dependent on the ability to keep computer glitches to a minimum.

There are already complaints about the processing speed on the portal on certain days. And the constantly backward sliding implementation schedule for ACE has done little to boost confidence in the new system.

Lou Smyrlis can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6881 or by e-mail at

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