Viewpoint: Turf Wars Complicate Border

by Lou Smyrlis

Carriers and owner/operators dependent on transborder hauls have been focusing their attention on how the recently announced prenotification procedures, as well as ongoing heightened terror alerts, will affect border crossings.

There’s good reason for this concern, of course. As revealed in a confidential Ontario government document, recently obtained under access to information legislation, our politicians are deeply concerned that if they can not influence the U.S. over border security, and protracted border delays become the norm, “then losses on both sides of the border will become very significant.”

While catching U.S. President George Bush’s ear on security concerns may have been high on new Prime Minister Paul Martin’s agenda as he met Bush in Mexico in early January, influencing the U.S. on border security may prove a much tougher task than many would assume.

There are political maneuverings playing out in Washington these days that not only make it difficult to pin down exactly who is responsible for what, but which I believe may pose an even greater threat to a common sense approach to border security than the strict legislation recently announced.

An all-out turf battle appears to be brewing between the various U.S. government agencies entrusted with solving border security issues and it carries long term implications for Canadian carriers and owner/operators.

The most obvious turf war is between the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency implementing the advance manifest rules for truck, air, rail and marine shipments as well as the computer systems expected to be the backbone of new border security, and the upstart Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which threatens to take the lead role in cargo security in the future.

Last summer Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge gave a delegation order that apparently assigned the TSA just such a role. The agency went right to work on anti-terrorism cargo identification, tracking and screening system for containerized cargo. Hadn’t CBP already developed such a security infrastructure with its voluntary C-TPAT approach?

It seems carriers and owner/operators already beset with the logistical problems presented by conflicting prenotification regulations recently announced by CBP and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can expect even more dueling policy making.

Just how ludicrous can this get? In late November the TSA actually announced that it would allow each U.S. state to implement its own process for checking the background of drivers licensed to carry hazardous materials. I don’t even want to think of what that will mean when it comes time to set up procedures for Canadian HAZMAT drivers trying to get clearance to enter the U.S.

Considering the vast scope of the issues involved, there’s no room for traditional government department turf wars. Competing rules will only confuse carriers and shippers, increase frustration and costs, and reduce compliance. Worst of all, they will compromise security. And the government agency watchdogs may find themselves too busy fighting amongst themselves to do anything meaningful about it.

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached at 416-442-2922 or

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.