US fails screening target

THE Transport Security Administration (TSA) is still struggling with its 100 per cent international cargo-screening target.

All domestic freight is being screened and the administration is negotiating agreements with 20 countries that send 80 per cent of the cargo heading to the US, TSA Administrator John Pistole said.

“What can they practically do that doesn’t put a halt to the global supply chain?” Pistole asked.

TSA set a goal of checking all cargo by 31 December 2010, a setback from the August 2010 deadline set by Congress.

The Yemen printer cartridges sent by terrorists last year were screened and not caught, but were found through an intelligence tip. Shippers are warning that the total screening target will divert limited resources from searching for the most dangerous packages.

Businesses want an electronic documentation system assuring that nobody has tampered with the goods as they are moved from manufacturer to shipper to aircraft. Companies would be certified for trustworthiness at each link in the supply chain.

IATA’s chief executive Tony Tyler believes the targets are not feasible. “Physical screening of 100 per cent of air cargo throughout the world is, I believe, impractical. Things do need to be screened at some point, but in the airport environment you just can’t do it.”

Brandon Fried, executive director of Airforwarders Association, agreed: “This is a real-estate issue. There’s not enough space at the airports to spread these boxes out and screen them individually. You can screen a load of bananas, but if you throw some sneakers in there [it is] game over.”

TSA estimates it would cost US$26.8 million over five years to run background checks on an estimated 650,000 shipping workers. The agency proposes to charge shippers $31 to $51 for each background check.

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