TORONTO, Ont. – Canadian carriers may find themselves in the frustrating position of having to turn down loads when the Nov. 15 deadline for electronic prenotification for U.S.-bound freight kicks in.
That’s because they may not have enough qualified drivers to carry them.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced in the Federal Register Aug. 17 that by Nov. 15, trucks hauling into the U.S. will have to file electronic manifests at least 30 minutes prior to arriving at the border. An exception was made for BRASS (Border Release Advanced Screening and Selectivity program) and CAFE (Customs Automated For Entry system for in-bound shipments through the U.S.) loads, but only under certain circumstances.
The circumstances are as follows: the importer and shipper must have engaged in a minimum number of 50 BRASS import transactions during the previous calendar year (CBP retains the right to change the minimum number as a matter of policy); the truck carrier must participate in an approved industry partnership program, such as C-TPAT, and; trucks carrying the merchandise must be driven by FAST registered drivers carrying FAST cards.
And there’s the rub. Carriers may not have enough FAST card carrying drivers and owner/operators to handle the loads. And with the entire FAST card application process taking a minimum of three months, drivers who didn’t apply for their FAST cards before the Aug. 17 announcement (and even some who did, but who were still waiting for the letter authorizing their final interview), are not going to get their FAST cards in time.
It’s a problem, even for carriers who started getting their drivers to apply for their FAST cards a long time ago.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Lisa Jennings, compliance officer for Bison Transport.
“Nov. 15 isn’t that far off, and while half (about 400) of our drivers already have their FAST cards we still have drivers who’ve applied who haven’t got their approval letters yet, never mind their interviews.”
It’s not as if Bison has been dilly-dallying either, said Jennings. The company started getting its drivers to apply for their FAST cards in 2002, she said.
Even so, Bison drivers have waited as long as three to four months to get their letters (FAST program officials insist they’re supposed to get them in eight weeks), according to Jennings.
“And then they have 90 days from the date at the top of the letter,” (which is often two weeks prior to the date on which they’re received, Jennings added), “to get to an enrolment centre and be interviewed.”
Of course the whole interview process is another logistical nightmare, said Jennings, as drivers aren’t always near enrolment centres during open hours.
“A driver moving through customs at midnight doesn’t have time to sit there until the enrolment office opens at 8 or 9 a.m.,” pointed out Jennings.
“And then, if they can’t make it to the interview within 90 days, they have to reapply.”
It’s not a good situation when you consider Bison carries a lot of BRASS loads, said Jennings.
“I would say the majority of our southbound shipments are BRASS,” she said, adding company officials have been communicating with shippers to see exactly what their needs will be come Nov. 15.
And it’s a bad situation for Canadian carriers in general, especially when you consider Bison is one of those companies that’s usually ahead of the game.
“What I can say is that there are carriers out there who definitely aren’t prepared,” said Stephen Laskowski, assistant vice-president of the Ontario Trucking Association. “Some of them don’t know what PAPS is.”
(PAPS stands for the U.S. Customs’ Pre-Arrival Processing System.)
“Clearly it’s a problem that needs to be addressed,” agreed Graham Cooper, senior vice-president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.
“Already a large number of drivers haven’t shown up for their interviews on the scheduled dates.”
Indeed, as of July 27, 29,265 Canadian and U.S. drivers had received or were about to receive their letters conditionally approving them for FAST cards if they passed their interviews, according to Canadian Fast-program officials.
But only 17,812 drivers managed to turn up for their interviews in the prescribed 90-day window, officials said.
At least some customs officials have acknowledged that getting to an interview during enrolment office open hours has been problematic for drivers.
Some of Canada’s enrollment offices (there are only 10) stay open later or on weekends as a result but with the announcement of the FAST card requirement for BRASS drivers as of Nov. 15, the situation is going to get worse.
“There’s certainly going to be a rush,” said Cooper.
“The problem is, we’ll be overloading a system that’s already on overload,” agreed Laskowksi.
“This will probably create a huge backlog of paperwork for FAST letters, and it’s probably going to take even longer to get them,” predicted Jennings.
Be that as it may, it appears FAST program officials appear to be somewhat slow on the uptake when it comes to reacting to the impending application crunch.
None of the communications officials contacted by Truck News had any information about intentions to fast-track applications, or even ensure that drivers got their letters after eight weeks. (To be fair, applicants have to be approved by the U.S. as well.)
And as for finding ways to make it easier for drivers to get to their FAST interviews, possible solutions are only just starting to be discussed.
“I know there’s some talk about a mobile FAST enrolment office,” said Karen Wilson, interim head of the Canadian FAST program. “But that is only in the discussion stages.”
In the meantime, carriers and drivers can spend their extra time (the time they would have spent carrying BRASS and CAFE loads) deciphering the latest revision to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Food and Drug Administration prior notice compliance schedule.
The most recent revision was released in mid-August.
It’s an update of the revised compliance schedule release in June.
Under the revised schedule, the CBP and FDA announce they plan to fully enforce all provisions of the prior notice Information Final Rule at U.S. Customs ports save for the following violations:
The registration number submitted for the manufacturing facility is inaccurate or is invalid;
The registration number for the shipper is not provided;
The airway bill number of bill of lading is not provided or is invalid; and
The name and address of the ultimate consignee is inaccurate because it contains the name and address of the express consignment operator or consolidator instead of the ultimate consignee.
For these violations, the two agencies have agreed to continue to exercise enforcement discretion until Nov. 1, unless the violation reflects a history of repeated conduct by the offender.
The revised schedule also states the agencies will exercise enforcement discretion for prior notices that fail to include a required manufacturing facility registration number, if the food being imported is for quality assurance, research or analysis purposes only, and not for human consumption.
And the two agencies also announced they’ll be delaying the publication of their absolutely final prior notice rule by three months.
The deadline for the final rule, originally slated to be published in the Federal Register in March 2005, has now been moved back to June 2005.
A contingency plan for the submission of prior notice information on food during system outages affecting the CBP and FDA computer systems has also been outlined. (The contingency plan is available on the Truck News Web site, at www.trucknews.com, under the Border Legislation button.)
The two agencies also announced they are continuing to discuss integration of prior notice time frames, and the reduction of FDA PN requirements to harmonize with those of the CBP (CBP requires one hour notice, or 30 minutes for FAST/CTPAT participants, FDA requires two hours prior notice
The plan is to try to publish a new rule on prior notice time frames for both agencies by June 2005.