Is the North American transportation system any more secure today than it was two years ago? Yes, but only marginally so. That was the opinion expressed by Mortimer Downey at a recent gathering of tra...
Is the North American transportation system any more secure today than it was two years ago? Yes, but only marginally so. That was the opinion expressed by Mortimer Downey at a recent gathering of transportation and logistics professionals from around the world in Chicago. Why should we care about what Downey thinks? Well, not only does he seem to be a straight shooter, he also participated in the National Academy of Science’s Congressionally-charged attempts to investigate how technology can be used to check the terrorist threat and is a former deputy secretary of transportation.
At the root of the slow crawl towards creating a transportation system that is both efficient and truly secure have been government initiatives that have either completely missed the mark, missed the deadline or have not been seeded with the funds necessary to get them up and running properly. The enormity and associated cost of the security issues involved necessitate heavy government involvement to drive consensus and enforce quick compliance. There’s no getting around that. Problem is the same government departments expected to create the secure transportation system necessary are often justifiably exposed for their inefficiency, short sightedness and inability to meet deadlines.
At press time, U.S. Customs announced it would not be able to meet the Oct. 1 deadline for issuing the final rule on advance cargo reporting as it was required to do under the U.S. Trade Act of 2002. Commissioner Robert Bonner said he would need at least another month to publish the final rules in the Federal Register. I’ll be the first to admit that Bonner has been entrusted with a Herculean task, but I can only wonder how much valuable time was lost at the start of the year by coming up with the completely ludicrous pre-notification proposals U.S. Customs had to eventually pull off the table. Unless it was a planned attempt to quickly get the industry’s attention, the result of senior U.S. bureaucrats so completely missing the mark was a waste of several months.
Meanwhile, there are reports that pilot testing of the ACE (Automated Commercial Environment) system, much touted by U.S. government officials for its supposed ability to process the electronic reporting required for pre-notification, will also be delayed till the final quarter of next year. And that means that just as carriers are getting used to pre-notification they will have to adapt to a new reporting system. The HAZMAT accreditation process is also about a month behind for U.S. carriers and nothing has been communicated to Canadian officials about what requirements there will be for foreign drivers.
Not that we are doing much better on this side of the border.
I recently sat through a luncheon speech from National Revenue Minister Elinor Kaplan during which she claimed the border security program was “making life easier” for participating carriers. Talk to carriers trying to get their drivers signed up for the program, however, and they quickly paint a much different picture. Drivers trying to get their FAST cards are finding that getting to a FAST application office is much harder than expected due to either restrictive office hours (does the government understand that trucking is not a 9 to 5 business?) or the lack of available centres in the Prairies and Maritimes.
And then there is the problem with Canadian importers. FAST requires the carrier, the driver and the importer to be FAST approved. Yet by August only 18 importers had signed up. Asked to account for the low importer response to date, all Kaplan could manage was: “probably because the program is relatively new.”
Considering the cost and complexity of compliance, such delays may be a good thing for Canadian carriers. In a strictly financial sense that’s true, although it must be frustrating for the carriers that have made the investments and are itching to reap the competitive advantages.
The delays and inefficient setup of these programs are also hurting their credibility. And that’s something we can’t afford. Consider one last tidbit from Downey: The estimated cost of another successful terrorist attack that shuts down North American supply chains for two weeks is $58 billion. The cost to carriers unable to access the U.S. market is unthinkable.
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