Janet Napolitano says US cannot meet deadline to screen cargo
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano today admitted that the US cannot meet the 2012 deadline to scan all incoming ship cargo, a badly needed measure designed to prevent possible nuclear and other terror attacks.
In testimony prepared for the Senate Transportation Committee, Secretary Napolitano stated that "In order to implement the 100 percent scanning requirement by the 2012 deadline, (the Department of Homeland Security) would need significant resources for greater manpower and technology, technologies that do not currently exist. Further, the requirements would require "the redesign of many ports."
Cost estimates for meeting the deadline are estimated to be in the neighborhood of at least $168 Billion, or $8 million dollars for each of the 21,000 shipping lanes into the United States.
Why so expensive? First, the technology to conduct the screening in the most efficient way apparently does not exist. Second, reliance on expanding existing screening methods with available technology would slow the flow of commerce, maybe even to a grinding halt, thus significantly driving up costs to consumers without bringing significant security benefits. Visions of long tanker lines in the Port of Los Angeles come to mind.
One wonders what Homeland Security has been doing since 9/11. Apparently I am not the only one. GAO released a damming report criticizing Homeland Security's "limited progress" in screening cargo, and questioned the technical feasibility of 100% screening.
While the Department of Homeland Security has long hinted that the 2012 deadline would not be met, Napolitano's comments are likely to ease concerns among foreign governments that non-compliant ports could be blacklisted.
Perhaps if they were blacklisted, we might light a fire under Congress to provide the adequate funding for screening and encourage other countries to accelerate screening in their ports. Meanwhile, Secretary Napolitano hinted that a stripped-down version plan may now be needed, one that would screen cargo from a handful of the 700 ports linked to the United States.
In my mind, that is a bureaucratic cop-out. Either we do the job right, or we shouldn't be doing it at all.
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Columbia, South Carolina, United States