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Published:August 17th, 2007 04:26 EST
 Advisory Committee On Commercial Operations For U.S. Customs And Border Protection

Advisory Committee On Commercial Operations For U.S. Customs And Border Protection

By SOP newswire

Secretary Chertoff: Well, thank you, Ralph. And I want to return the compliment and say that you have an outstanding, very experienced commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol, and also a new deputy commissioner. Congratulations, Jay. (Applause.)

I appreciate the opportunity to be here with you, and the important service that this committee provides to this department and to the country, in fact, over the last 20 years, I think, you've been active.

Obviously, you provide an important sounding board to us to give us some real-world expertise and perspective on what is often a difficult balance between security and trade. Of course, the security requirements and challenges have changed over 20 years, as has the demand of the global trading environment. So this is not a static circumstance; it's a dynamic one in which we have to continue to talk to each other about how to strike this balance.

Of all the challenges that we face, of course, in protecting the country from dangerous people and dangerous things, there is no greater challenge than making sure that we continue the flow of trade and commerce on an international basis, even as we continue to take reasonable steps to elevate our level of protection.

We know that the international supply chain is designed to be as quick and as seamless and as far reaching as possible. And that is in some tension with the requirement of security, which is basically built upon the concept of monitoring, inspecting and, if necessary, preventing entry of something or someone that would be very dangerous.

So we have to reconcile facilitation and security. And I believe we can do that. In fact, I believe that if we do it properly, we wind up enhancing both of them.

Now, as I've looked at the wide-ranging responsibilities of the Department of Homeland Security, I've often described our strategic objectives as being five, and one of those is keeping dangerous cargo from entering the country. And that's particularly true with the kind of dangerous cargo that could be used to constitute a weapon of mass destruction: a nuclear bomb, a radiological or dirty bomb, or something else that is a material that cannot be easily acquired in the United States, some kind of a weapon that would have to be brought in from overseas.

Of course, there are some larger issues as well we see, even with respect to the need to keep dangerous imports out of the country.

We have a similar set of challenges, in terms of identifying dangerous cargo and making sure we can stop it without interfering with the overwhelming benign effect of the flow of trade.

So let me talk a little bit about how we want to -- what kind of layered approach we want to take to this issue of security, recognizing that we're dealing with a series of somewhat distinct but related challenges: How do we keep bad things from entering the country? How do we keep people from using bad things to attack us at our ports from the water side? And how do we use our resources to prevent a land side attack on the ports? Of course, an attack on the ports would not only be a direct assault upon lives and property, but would have a very, very serious impact upon our continuity of trade and our whole global regime of commerce.

So our approach is to look at all of these distinct but related threats, and take a layered enforcement and security process, which is designed to reduce risk but not to eliminate risk.

Now, I actually could eliminate the risk to the ports. If I shut them, there will not be any risk, but there won't be any ports. And I noticed there's some laughs, but I can tell you, I've sat in groups and heard people argue, for example, that you ought to have 100 percent physical inspection of every container that comes into the country. Sometimes I am -- when I'm in a little bit of, I guess, a devilish mood, I think, well, I ought to perhaps take some member of Congress up on the offer to do that in her or her home port and see how long it is before the longshoremen are out picketing and complaining about it.

Obviously we're not going to go for total guarantees against risk, because that's not possible with any system that's a vibrant and organic system. So we do want to take a layered risk-managed approach, and we do it using a number of different initiatives: the Secure Freight Initiative, which includes the overseas scanning program and Security Filing, 10+2; the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, as well as the future role of recognition of Authorized Economic Operators in potential mutual recognition systems; and the Container Security Initiative, which puts as many of our officers overseas as we possibly can to engage in screening and, where necessary, inspection in foreign ports.

What connects all these programs in common is the focus on gathering information and data relating to containers as they transit the global supply chain. We use information as a substitute for the brute force of 100 percent physical inspection, because the more information we have on a container, the less likely it is for us to have to waste a physical inspection, and that way, of course, we can reduce cost and delays.

So some of the programs, like Security Filing and CTPAT, are aimed at gathering information from the trade side of the supply chain, manifesting entry data about cargo and data from the logistics processes of the carriers and forwarders. This gives us greater visibility into container movements and stowage on board vessels.

Other programs are designed to be more automatic. For example, Secure Freight phase one, where the potential use of container security devices are ways of using mechanical or scanning devices to simply automatically and routinely detect either dangerous material in a container or a dangerous intrusion into a container which might have compromised the contents of the container.

At the end of the day, we want to combine all of these systems to allow us to receive, process and act upon commercial information in a timely way so that we can target, in a very specific fashion, the suspect shipments without requiring us to materially slow up the supply chain or cause our ports of entry to become clogged up.

Because of the emphasis on information that is at the heart of our layered strategy, getting this information earlier and more comprehensively is obviously very important. And the 10+2 initiative, or the Security Filing, as it's officially known, is a good example of this.

As you know, the notice of proposed rulemaking on 10+2 is currently under review at DHS, and we'll soon be sending it over to the Office of Management and Budget to complete the clearance process.

This 10+2 initiative is going to give us earlier and more targeted risk-assessment capability, and I want to thank you for the valuable time and effort you put into giving us feedback.

Our discussions with you and the recommendations you provided in February on the SAFE Port Act mandate to provide more advanced information on shipments into the U.S. were very helpful to us in developing the proposed rule.

I want to make sure we continue to move forward to get this thing done as quickly as possible, taking into account all the Comments made by people who are involved in the trade.

I also look forward to your assistance as we implement the new reporting procedures. We're going to phase the reporting procedures in over time so we don't disrupt the flow of trade, but I would like to see us begin implementing it this year.

In the future, we want to continue to look for ways to increasingly collect helpful information on containers to increase visibility throughout the supply chain, and thereby reduce risk without increasing physical inspections. We're envisioning, as the next step in this process, piloting, on a voluntary basis, a system that would provide expanded global access to trade information. I know you have a lot of -- and I'm interested in hearing about this concept of an information clearinghouse that would collect data on shipments, on purchases, on purchasers, which we could then use to further refine our intelligence-based targeting. Customs and Border Patrol has been working very hard on a solicitation of proposals, and we're hoping in the very near future to be able to put something out.

Now, that's the prevention side of the whole issue of the supply chain. But I also know you're concerned about what is the response if something gets through our defenses, notwithstanding our best efforts. And I had the opportunity to talk about this when I was out in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, as we discussed our strategy with respect to resumption of trade.

We recently released an interim strategy to enhance international supply chain security, which was required by the SAFE Port Act. This is not a detailed plan, but is the overarching framework for resumption of trade, building on a number of existing national strategies and plans, and bringing together numerous programs and tactical operational procedures that are being developed by the appropriate department components and agencies.

This interim strategy is the first step. We're looking to assimilate the Comments that we receive, and we're going to continue to refine it, as well as our overarching National Response Framework. The concept here, again, is to find a way, as efficiently as possible, to unify our response to an incident in a port so that we can get the port up and running again; make alternative arrangements while the port was down; consider how we prioritize the flow of maritime traffic, based upon what else is happening in the environment; and execute on this as quickly as possible.

Obviously, in order to do this, the strategy and the planning will continue to require very specific work with those people who are engaged in the trade themselves, both the importers and the shippers and the port operators.

And finally, we also appreciate your feedback on the CTPAT program. We know you're going to be issuing a report in the coming weeks on that program, and we're looking forward to receiving it.

With respect to the Container Security Initiative, we're scheduled to be up and running by October 1 in 58 ports, with over 85 percent of the trade coming into the United States now being handled with this overseas initiative.

And I'm delighted to say that we've deployed our thousandth radiation portal monitor so that by the end of this year, almost 100 percent of seaborne cargo entering the United States is going to be coming through radiation portal monitors. And that is the kind of automated scanning which I think is a critical layer in our defense against people smuggling in dangerous nuclear materials.

We're also working on the next-generation ASP technology that will further enhance and refine our ability to detect and characterize radioactive material so that we can more quickly separate the kitty litter from the dirty bomb, which means less delay as you move through the trade cycle.

In this respect, let me say I am -- I asked and I actually directed that we get an independent panel together to give me advice on the certification of this next-generation system so that I would be able to make my certification with expert opinion on the workability and the science behind this ASP system. I think it's important; in fact, I've been asked about it by Congress, like why I'm not prepared to rely on GAO's opinion. And my answer is this: If Congress is going to mandate that I certify, I'm going to look to scientists and experts that I trust to give me the background I need to do that certification. So I'm looking forward to getting that underway.

All of these are important areas of focus for us. I think if you look at where we've come since September 11th, when we had zero radiation portal monitors, and only a much more elementary system of intelligence-based screening, there's been a huge advance forward in dealing with these issues. And we've been able to do that because we've been able to work with the trade and with this committee and others to get a real-world view of what works and what doesn't work.

Let me conclude, though, by saying this: Our focus on risk management and security has to be driven not only by what's fashionable in the media or what Congress is asking about, but on our informed, well-advised judgment about the totality of risks. So even as there's been a lot of discussion about container security, I want you to know that we've been very focused on other threats to ports, other than those coming from containers; threats of the kind that we saw in the attack on the U.S.S. Cole or the French tanker Limburg. That's why we're working with the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Patrol to develop some plans with respect to the possibility of small boats coming into ports with nuclear materials or dangerous materials as a complement to what we're doing with the large containers.

Our watchword here is, all threats, all hazards, dealt with comprehensively, 24-7, and with your help, we're well on the way to achieving that objective.

And so now I'm happy to take a few Questions.

Mr. Basham: If I could suggest that we maybe quickly go around the room and have the members introduce themselves.

(Members are introduced.)

Mr. Basham: As you can see, the trade is well represented here, and we're just incredibly pleased with the relationship and the partnership that we have here. And we depend upon this group a great deal on many different fronts. As opposed to your visit to Artesia with the Border Patrol the other day, when you got no Questions, this group is not shy. So I will ask those of you who may have Questions of the Secretary to weigh in.

Question: I'd like to thank you for coming here. It's a demonstration of the department's appreciation of the fact that the folks in this room really do have something to offer; in fact, they're all experts in this room.

So this morning we got a brief report on the strategic plan that's been developed that COAC had been asked to Comment on. And we did Comment on it. And the first Comment that was universally endorsed was that, in the event of an incident and post an incident, there be a clear command-and-control structure. And that, it was felt -- and Chris, I'm sure, will elaborate on this -- that that would -- that command-and-control structure would supersede state and local authority. I understand you're from New Jersey, which I am, and you know -- although it recently has been, I believe, decided that New York and New Jersey are still arguing over who owns Bedloe's Island. So to the extent that there is an incident, the worst thing we can imagine is that there be some lack of clarity over who's in charge. And we really urge you to consider that as a critical issue.

The other thing is that, in the event of an incident involving a major port -- Los Angeles, Long Beach, New York, Chicago O'Hare -- we don't see that as a state issue. There's very little cargo that remains in Newark. It all goes on into the mid-section of the country or beyond. So that's not a state issue, as we see it. We see that as clearly a federal issue, and it needs federal control and command. And we think, incidentally -- not that we're patronizing -- but that the best people to do that are in CBP, because they have the information, they know who the shippers are, they know who the folks who are not the usual shippers are.

So, again, we urge you to consider the concern that we have. As I mentioned this morning, Pfizer and the global logistics group, we're responsible for getting product where it's needed so people have their medicine every day that they want it. And we need to know what the federal plan is if tomorrow on CNN we hear that the port of Chicago O'Hare has gone down, we need to know, well, what do we do next? Where do we get the information? What's the plan? So that we can build that into our own continuity plans.

Up till now, that's not been transparent. And we think it needs to be, and we urge you to give consideration to that.

I'm not sure what the Question was. (Laughter.)

Secretary Chertoff: No, no, I understand what the Question was. I think that you have identified what is probably the most difficult challenge in this area. And let me break it into two parts.

As far as the federal government is concerned, we do have a National Response Plan and a National Response -- soon to be the National Response Framework, which does identify a process for doing exactly what you say among the federal authorities, to bring them together and to have a unified -- a unity of effort by setting up both at the tactical level in a particular port, but also, depending on the nature of the incident, at the national level, an incident command structure that would have at the table the necessary people to make the decisions, coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security. And depending on the particular nature of the incident, at the tactical level, it would likely be coordinated either by the captain of the port from the Coast Guard or senior CBP official.

I might add, by the way, one of the reasons this is an opportunity for me to -- I think this group will appreciate -- to make an argument, which is, this is why we have a National Response Plan that is all-hazards and isn't simply the same kind of organizational leadership for every kind of incident. And the way that we would, for example, in a hurricane have FEMA playing the lead role in managing the incident, as you point out in a maritime incident where we would have to deal with non-Stafford Act issues, we would really want to have probably a Customs and Border Protection or Coast Guard individual dealing with the incident at the port itself.

Obviously, though, there are constitutional limitations on our ability to direct state and local officials about what to do. I think we have the authority in the port itself, through the Coast Guard's very considerable powers, to really direct the tactical operations within the port. But of course, as you leave the port area and you're dealing with municipalities and municipal police and other authorities, again, our approach has to be one of coordination. It's not necessarily going to be the case where we can always command and control state and city operators.

What I have seen is that the key to making this work smoothly in a civilian environment is to have planning and training and exercising, because if we get the various players together in the major ports -- as we've done, for example, in Los Angeles -- and they know each other and they know what the plan is, then they can come together and they can actually execute with unity of effort, even if we don't have the ability at the federal level to simply take over all the state authorities. I mean, that's a constitutional issue.

Now, I suppose there are some people who might say at some point one ought to go to Congress and see if Congress will create a mechanism in which the federal government can "take over" in some circumstances. That's always been a very controversial issue, though, and there may even be some limits under the Constitution about how much Congress can do that.

But I do agree with your basic observation. I think when it comes to international trade it is largely a federal responsibility. And I think certainly as it relates to opening ports, closing ports, directing the flow of trade from one port to another, I would expect that that decision making would be coordinated at the federal level and managed both at the tactical level and at the national level through an incident command structure led by either the Coast Guard or Customs and Border Protection officials.

Question: Mr. Secretary, thank you for honoring us today with your presence. First I'd like to thank you for your Comments on 10+2. COAC has spent roughly a year providing input to CBP. We know CBP views this as a high priority. We think it gives the department additional data to do better risk assessment, and it's good to hear what the department's intent is on this. So thank you for that.

Two Questions, where there is not the same level of transparency on the trades part as to what may be developing. One is with respect to container security devices, or CSDs, that you referred to. We understand an effort is underway to develop proposed requirements for such devices, but the trade at this point hasn't really had the opportunity to have insight into that. I'd simply like to pose to you the trades' hope and request that when those requirements are kind of gelled together and signed off, that the trade be given the opportunity to provide public Comment and input before they're sent out to vendors for testing or for anything else, because we think we have a lot of valuable information that could be at least offered to the department for what these device standards and requirements could be.

The second issue is what's been referred to in the press at GTX, or the Global Trade Exchange, which we understand is a concept being considered in the department as well. Again, on that one we really don't have much insight or understanding of exactly what it is, how it would work. You know, a lot of this data sounds like it would be very commercially sensitive; to be provided and being given to a third party vendor obviously sets off Questions in people's minds: How is this going to work? And obviously a lot of sensitivities and concerns.

So at this point, on that particular issue, we are at a bit of a loss. We understand 10+2, which fits into better data; we don't really understand GTX or what the department's intent or approach on that might be.

Secretary Chertoff: Well, certainly on the first issue, the security devices, we will be seeking your input before we finalize these things.

Likewise, also with GTX, which I think we're going to begin as a voluntary program. But let me explain the concept. The concept is the more information we know earlier down the supply chain, the more precise we can be in determining what the risk is. And that means we actually wind up having to inspect fewer containers, or what we inspect we can be more precise and more confident that we're inspecting intelligently.

On the other hand, we don't necessarily want to have the government own all this commercial information. I don't think you want it, either. So the concept is to set up a proposal for a trusted aggregator -- and I don't think we're far enough along that I'm in a position to tell you exactly how that would look -- and have the aggregator collect the information, but not -- and obviously it would have to be under a stringent rule set to make sure that it's not divulged or shared to competitors. But that would give us a better ability to determine whether a particular kind of shipment is one that is irregular or out of the ordinary or suspicious and warrants a closer look.

I might add this is important not only for the obvious issue of terrorism, but even as we are concerned about such things as the global trade and stolen intellectual property, or adulterated goods coming in -- adulterated medicines and adulterated food products, which has been in the news a lot lately -- we need to be able to detect if there's a danger of this kind of material coming into the country, how we inspect for it. And this ability to accumulate greater information would give us that capability.

The key will be to design the system in a way that will -- and it will begin as a voluntary process -- that will assure that those who contribute into the system will not have to worry that their proprietary information will leak to their competitors or to others. So we're very mindful about that.

Comment: I guess to that point, one of the Questions or requests that we had relative to today was to request that we be given a briefing on the GTX system, to understand the different components, to understand how it would work. And also that we be given that opportunity before an RFP went out, because there's a great deal of interest relative to the data, different data programs that are out there and how they're going to work, to also address potential duplication of effort and where we can collectively work on the best process and best system.

Comment: First, Mr. Secretary, I wanted to thank you on behalf of the committee for your very kind Comments for the work that we've done in the past on things like security filing and CTPAT. Then I want to build on what Chris and Lisa were just talking about, and that is to express not just a hope, but an expectation that the people on this committee will continue to work not just with CBP, but with other components of DHS on new programs being deployed and developed. That includes, you mentioned, the container security devices, GTX, Secure Freight Initiative, and the Import Safety Working Group. So thank you.

Question: And just kind of echoing what most of the others have said -- and, again, thank you very much for being here, it's an honor to have you here.

Our concern in the whole Global Trade Exchange, or GTX as it's called, is that we are embarking on the next two years in changing the entire process of how the international supply chain and that global conveyor belt works with 10+2. I took heart in taking a note on your discussion of Secure Freight would include overseas scanning and 10+2. If that's where the data is going to come from, you probably are going to hear a huge sigh of relief in this room. If there's additional data and a different mechanism or portal, if you will, for that data to get to assist in targeting, we're very, very concerned.

Last but not least is through the TSN, the Trade Support Network, which is another group that helps CBP in determining exactly the information that was necessary for 10+2, that process took almost three years, with the initial data element discussion in, I think, in excess of 64 data elements. What is at Customs that you really need to be able to target better? That was narrowed down in a three-year period to these ten and those two.

So, on the heels of that, even before NPRM is out, we're now hearing about a data exchange for additional information and, at the same time, we understand there's some funding that's been out there appropriated to start this data exchange. And quite frankly, COAC has not seen anything on it at all in terms of a consultative process, which I know that the commissioner really likes us to be able to do that.

So we would ask that we not only get a briefing, but actually get some of the documentation about what, how, who, when, why, where -- that kind of thing.

Secretary Chertoff: Obviously, we will continue to consult on this. I mean, I do think that what we're looking with the next stage of this is information that will also come from a broader range of people -- people who don't typically provide information -- so we can get greater visibility into the supply chain and at an earlier point in time. You may have visibility at the point of which you aggregate things together and they then wind up being stuffed into the containers and shipped off. But if we know more about the earlier stages of the transaction we can be more specific in targeting.

To keep it at a relatively high altitude, let me put it this way, there is going to be, for a whole host of reasons, issues about terrorism, issues about import safety, an increasing demand for security with respect to what comes into the country. In fact, it's not just the country, it's the whole world. I mean, ultimately I fully expect that other countries will want to have the same level of security and safety with respect to the supply chain as we do. I think the best argument against the brute force approach is the intelligent accumulation of information.

Those of you who have seen the 100 percent overseas scanning requirements well understand that a simple argument like 100 percent physical inspection can have a lot of traction. And if we're not prompt and reasonably energetic in coming up with an alternative model for how to do this, we may well find the model being dictated by people who have a very simple view of what ought to be done, which is open everything up.

So I think, while I understand everybody always gets nervous when we talk about additional requirements, I think in this day and age with respect to the way in which data is accumulated and analyzed and the commercial setting, it would strike me as odd that we not seek to continue to get more and better data from a wider variety of people to make a more informed judgment about what to look at.

The other thing I would say is this: We don't have an infinite amount of time for these things. We're always running against the clock. And something I've observed in a whole variety of areas when it comes to the domain of homeland security is that should something avoidable happen, long delays in implementing things and long periods of study will tend not to sound very persuasive by way of explaining why something wasn't done. So we do want to consult, we do want to discuss and have your valuable insight, but we also want to move forward on these initiatives because, frankly, I think they're intelligent and I think the alternative approach, which is always lurking out there, is one which I'm quite confident without consultation you probably all would think would be a bad idea.

Question: The experience in 10+2 was one where we responded very quickly. We got a document; we had weekly conference calls. Mike Mullen -- I like to pick on Mike, he sort of beat us up and threw us in a room and said, you guys come out with the answers in two days, in Houston, and we did it.

So if you're waiting on us, sir, as an old Texas saying goes, "You're backing up." Give us the information and we'll provide you the help.

Mr. Basham: I think we have time for just one more. The Secretary has to leave shortly.

Question: Mr. Secretary, it's also -- it's an honor to be able to even address you. APL operates both marine terminals here and in Asia, and we own and operate ships and so on. So thank you for telling me that you're not going to shut the ports down. That is a knee-jerk reaction.

I just wanted to say there's a lot of talk about collaboration, cooperation and consultation. And just to set the record straight, CBP has done a very good job -- they did a good job on the 24-hour rule; they did an excellent job on its child, 10+2; they did a tremendous job in rolling out the radiation portals in the port of entries -- no impact at all, there was no delay, but a lot of consultation. CTPAT, of course, is the benchmark. But other DHS agencies have also done -- even collaboration with G-to-G, government-to-government, mega-ports with DOE, the Coast Guard in its International Port Security Program, where they visit ports, CSI for CBP.

I think the end result is that, depending on the issue, there are experts in the trade -- some on COAC and some not -- that can make the product better, more secure and still rationalize security and trade facilitation with that collaboration. And sometimes it's not Customs, sometimes it's another DHS agency, and sometimes it's outside of DHS. But we also look to Customs to be the facilitator.

Secretary Chertoff: Well, that's a wonderful point. And let me make a pitch for one of the -- I think one of the things that's implicit in what you've said, which is the value that we've obtained by having all these agencies together in DHS. In the old days you had Coast Guard and Department of Transportation, Customs, and Treasury -- TSA was in the Department of Transportation. Now, for people who are in the business of moving things, where you're looking at a domain in which you're dealing with air, sea and land -- and sometimes you have to do it in a coordinated way -- we are able to give you one-stop shopping, where we can build and integrate planning with the Coast Guard, with Customs and Border Protection and with TSA, so that if you're concerned about security and moving goods into and around the United States, we will have a synchronized capability to plan and have rules that fit together, instead of being inconsistent. And I think that's a real value add.

 I think people sometimes don't recognize this. Occasionally I see people say, well, you have all these agencies lumped together -- but I think you are in a position to witness that the ability to bring -- you touch a lot of different functions in your jobs. We are an integrated world, and the ability to bring all of the elements that create security for the movement of goods around the world and inside the U.S. I think is of value to you in that it gives you one place you know where all this stuff is going to be brought together. So I think it's a very good point.

Mr. Basham: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. Peggy, I know you were anxious, and Sam -- Sam is a former deputy commissioner and acting commissioner, so I'm not going to let him ask you any Questions. (Laughter.) Mainly because you're on a very tight schedule, and we really appreciate you taking this time to come in and talk with us.

Secretary Chertoff: Thank you very much for your service, really appreciate it.

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