Intermodal program raises concerns

Dec. 1, 2005
YET ANOTHER transportation security program has been proposed by Congress. Entitled the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act, the legislative initiative

YET ANOTHER transportation security program has been proposed by Congress. Entitled the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act, the legislative initiative targets intermodal operations (specifically containers) and would cost at least $835 million.

If this program is like most of the other transportation security initiatives, the cost likely will outweigh most of the benefits. At the very least, the proposed program will impose more layers of bureaucracy and potentially more paperwork requirements on companies involved in international intermodal operations.

The co-authors of the bill (S.2008), Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), say the legislation is needed to plug gaping holes in US intermodal cargo security. They argue that terrorist organizations could use containers to smuggle weapons or terrorists into the United States. Terrorists could even turn the container into an instrument of destruction by detonating a conventional, chemical, biological, or nuclear weapon inside it.

“Right now, there is a gaping hole in America's security when it comes to cargo entering our ports every day,” Murray said when the bill was introduced November 15. “To protect our nation, we have to develop a cargo security system that closes vulnerabilities, provides a way to resume trade after an incident, and maintains the efficient flow of commerce.”

The bill contains five key elements that are intended to improve security at US ports: a GreenLane program for intermodal logistics operations; minimum security standards for all types of intermodal containers entering the United States; a new Office of Cargo Security Policy; joint operations centers; and renewed authorization of Port Security Grants, the Container Security Initiative, and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT).

The GreenLane program would be offered to supply chain participants that voluntarily meet the highest level of security. Participants would have to meet certain requirements, including submission of data on shipments prior to loading, making cargo available for screening or examination before loading, and using an ocean carrier that has US Coast Guard approved security plans. Benefits to GreenLane participants could include reduced searches, expedited cargo release regardless of national threat level, and reduced bonding requirements.

While some aspects of S.2008 seem promising, the legislation has a major downside. All of the programs proposed in the bill would be administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), one of the most bloated and muscle-bound departments ever created for the federal government.

How bad is DHS? The former 9/11 Commission recently gave the federal government an “F” on homeland security spending for cities most at risk, on improving radio communication for emergency agencies, and on airline passenger prescreening.

The department's response during this year's hurricanes was anything but stellar. We saw bureaucratic disarray, inefficiency, and waste on a mammoth scale.

DHS-imposed programs have raised operating costs and lowered productivity for trucking companies with scant improvement in US security. For example, it's been six months since DHS's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) implemented Federal Bureau of Investigation-based background checks for hazardous materials drivers. That requirement has raised truck fleet operating costs while driving a significant number of truck drivers out of the hazmat side of the business.

By TSA's own estimates, the background check will result in a loss of 20% of the hazmat-endorsed driver population. That's just an estimate. Not only could the actual fallout be much higher, the background check program may discourage large numbers of new drivers from ever considering employment in hazmat operations.

Drivers cite cost and inconvenience as key problems with the program. Fees for the background check range from $94 to $133, depending on the state. Many states have just two locations for processing the background checks.

This track record does nothing to instill confidence in the ability of the DHS bureaucracy to implement successfully the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act. It would be tragic for the intermodal sector if this program becomes yet another boondoggle for DHS.