In her second annual “State of Homeland Security” address, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano outlined DHS’s 2012 plan, which contained few policy changes, but may have surprised the audience with its priorities. As expected, Napolitano’s speech provided an update of the department’s efforts in areas including homegrown terrorism avoidance, disaster recovery, immigration enforcement and cyber security.
A case could be made, however, that the overarching priority of the department is to continue to encourage a U.S. economic recovery through the efficient, yet secure, movement of people and goods across U.S. borders. This emphasis means that international cargo security is yet again at the forefront of the DHS agenda.
How to best understand this shift in policy? Comparing it to finding a needle in a proverbial haystack, the secretary said the best method for looking for the hypothetical needle is to know all that is possible about the individual pieces of hay that obscure it.
If this is the backbone of the DHS’ new policy, the airfreight industry would welcome it.
This risk-based approach should be the guiding principal of proposed trusted-shipper programs and future cargo regulations. The secretary even mentioned that for this reason, international partnerships and air cargo information-sharing are becoming as important as the physical screening of air cargo itself.
The best hope at present for a haystack sorter is the Air Cargo Advanced Screening program. The ACAS is a voluntary program, now in its pilot phase, which accepts advanced electronic house bill of lading data from forwarders and carriers in order to target high-risk cargo. The ACAS pilot establishes communications systems with forwarders and carriers while allowing both to provide shipment-level data for air cargo inbound to the U.S.
Since thousands of tonnes of cargo fly throughout the world every day, finding dangerous packages is as tough as determining whether the needle is even in that particular haystack. Analyzing shipment data before departure provides an opportunity to pinpoint those shipments that may be the most threatening.
The ACAS pilot program has three phases. The first phase has been to review shipment data from express carriers such as FedEx and UPS. The next will scan information from passenger airlines and forwarders, and the third phase focuses on data submitted by all-cargo airlines.
The Global Air Cargo Advisory Group, a body representing associations, carriers and shippers recently met with senior CBP officials to express its support and concerns about the initiative. The group expressed that there are many issues to be resolved through the ACAS pilots; of particular concern are the details of how the passenger airlines and their forwarder customers will be involved.
GACAG also urged that ACAS data elements be consistent with those of the World Customs Organization’s Data Model and that the interface and interaction between forwarders and airlines be an important consideration. Furthermore, the group called for shippers to be invited into future ACAS discussions.
The Airforwarders Association agrees with GACAG and further urges CBP to recognize that many airfreight forwarders deliver efficient and flexible shipping solutions through vast international agent networks. While these agents provide excellent support through their local knowledge and expertise, they may not share the same electronic platforms of their U.S. forwarder customers. It is likely that they rely on equally effective alternative communications, though. Such diversity must be understood and considered when exploring the various filing data options before departure.
While the ACAS program has no mandate through regulation or statute at this point, U.S. Congressional legislation has been introduced to require the advanced screening of shipment data before departure. There is also talk of a proposed rule that may be introduced by the end of 2012. Forwarders now have an opportunity to provide their suggestions by participating in the airline and forwarder phase of the pilot program.
— Brandon Fried is the executive director of the U.S. Airforwarders Association