Industry Urges Repeal of Container Screening Mandate

The mandate has never been implemented but is still on the books and has been repeatedly waived.

WASHINGTON — A coalition of industry trade groups urged the Obama administration on Monday to make a recommendation to Congress to repeal a 100 percent container-scanning mandate that has never been implemented but is still on the books and has been repeatedly waived.

Organizations including the National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association, U.S. Fashion Industry Association and American Apparel & Footwear Association sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson lauding him for his recent two-year extension of the deadline for the controversial mandate, but imploring the administration to ask Congress to repeal it altogether. The mandate dates back to 2006 when legislation — passed by Congress and signed by then-President George W. Bush — set a deadline of July 2012 for the scanning of all U.S.-bound cargo containers for radiation and nuclear weapons.

Ever since then, the deadline for the 100 percent scanning mandate has been extended over what many have characterized as significant obstacles, including the high costs for U.S. and foreign governments in implementing and maintaining scanning equipment, nonexistent scanning software and unanswered questions about who will share the costs of operating the equipment. In early May, Johnson also renewed the extension of the mandate deadline, set for this July, for another two years.

“The intent of the law is to prevent radiological and nuclear terrorism by denying terrorists the ability to transport radiological [and] nuclear weapons via the more than 12 million maritime containers that enter the U.S. each year from more than 800 ports worldwide,” Johnson said in a letter notifying Congress of his decision to renew the extension until July 2016.

The law instructed the Department of Homeland Security to renew deadline extensions in two-year increments if six statutory conditions were met. Johnson said several factors exist that prevent full-scale implementation of the cargo scanning mandate, including “a negative impact on trade capacity and the flow of cargo” and the inability of foreign ports to install scanning systems.

“DHS’ ability to fully comply with this unfunded mandate of 100 percent scanning, even in the long term, is highly improbable, hugely expensive and, in our judgment, not the best use of taxpayer resources to meet this country’s port security and homeland security needs,” Johnson wrote.

It is up to Congress to repeal the mandate. With that in mind, Johnson said his agency would continue to try to comply with the mandate’s underlying objectives by working to increase the percentage of high-risk containers scanned abroad, improve targeting of high-risk containers, engage stakeholders and address other vulnerabilities.

But industry groups are pressuring the administration to make a recommendation for repeal to Congress.

“The statutory provision calling for 100 percent container scanning has always been, and remains, impractical and does not actually improve security,” the groups said in their letter. “If implemented, this provision would have a significantly negative impact on global commerce and cause significant conflict with the governments of our foreign trading partners, many of which have stated their opposition to the requirement previously.”

The groups said U.S. Customs and Border Protection already has an effective risk-based strategy to screen all containerized cargo shipments bound for the U.S. and inspects those that are found to be high risk. They argued that the current CBP targeting system in place works and does not “impair the efficiency of the global supply chain.”