DHS official: Cargo mandate should be reconsidered

A senior Homeland Security Department official told lawmakers on Wednesday it is time for Congress to reconsider a legal mandate created by Democratic lawmakers that requires all cargo containers to be scanned for weapons of mass destruction at foreign ports before they are shipped to the United States.

The mandate, which Democrats put in a massive 2007 homeland security bill with much fanfare, requires the department to ensure that all U.S.-bound containers are scanned abroad by 2012. At the time, critics complained that the mandate was a "bumper-sticker" security solution that was unrealistic. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers in late February that meeting the deadline was not feasible, mainly because technology does not exist to do such comprehensive scanning and because obtaining political agreements with other countries is problematic.

Jayson Ahern, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday that the mandate "needs to be thoughtfully reconsidered." Because it is written into the law, the department still must work toward achieving it, taking time and resources away from other priorities, Ahern said. He said the risk that a weapon of mass destruction would be smuggled by a ship container is "minimal" and the department has "more significant vulnerabilities" to address. He added that there is also "a significant amount of international churn" by other countries about what U.S. policy on scanning containers will ultimately be.

Lawmakers said they have many questions about how best to secure cargo containers but did not scold Ahern over his comments, indicating a growing acceptance on Capitol Hill that the mandate needs to be relaxed. Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Price, D-N.C., said "the dilemma" presented by Ahern is "compelling" and needs to be addressed by Congress. "The question is, absent a '100 percent solution,' are current programs adequate to mitigate risk?" Price asked. "If not, what needs to be done?" He added "there's no question" that ensuring cargo security "is a serious issue."

On another front, Price also said he wants the department to submit detailed information on its strategy to prevent illicit cash and weapons from being smuggled from the United States to Mexican drug cartels. Ahern said the department is scanning all trains heading into Mexico and has not found any contraband. But he said inspecting vehicles driving into Mexico is much more challenging, especially because U.S. border checkpoints were never set up to facilitate southbound inspections. He noted that Congress provided $720 million in the economic stimulus bill to improve border crossings, but said the money is "only a fraction" of what is needed.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.