U.S. highway bill good for entire industry
On June 29, the U.S. House and Senate approved the long-awaited highway reauthorization bill, which sets the U.S.’s transportation policy for the next two years. The bill includes a commitment to streamline the approval process for project completion and provide states with greater flexibility when utilizing federal funding. The bill also provides $105 billion in funding for essential programs.
Forwarders have long believed that highway infrastructure funding throughout the world is essential for maintaining a viable air cargo system and a vibrant economy. Roads are an integral part of transporting freight to and from airports. Delays created by poor road conditions directly impact the forwarding industry. Another repercussion of deteriorating road services is high vehicle maintenance costs.
Unfortunately, while the bill contains important provisions to streamline the delivery and reduce the bureaucracy that surrounds infrastructure projects, it also continues the trend of decreasing investment in road transportation. Despite the majority of funding being allocated for highway spending, the overall trend toward decreased transportation spending is likely to continue.
Freight forwarders who did not pay much attention to the transportation debate awoke the next morning to find a surety bond requirement that takes effect one year after the bill’s enactment. This applies to forwarders who arrange truck shipments with no prior or subsequent air component.
The Airforwarders Association and the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America overcame the challenge and successfully removed the change to existing law from the legislation. For quite some time, freight forwarders arranging ground truck shipments without a prior or subsequent air portion had been required to register with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. This requirement will continue. Despite our lobbying efforts to the contrary, such registration will also require a $75,000 surety bond.
In essence, we won a significant battle, yet the war continues. The Airforwarders Association will continue to press for the removal of this surety bond requirement and will monitor opportunities to influence policy in that direction.
In addition to the latest bill, Congress is considering multiple other pieces of legislation that could potentially affect the forwarding community. The House recently passed the Aviation Security Stakeholder Participation Act that was introduced last year in order to establish the Aviation Security Advisory Committee in the Transportation Security Administration. The ASAC is a valuable stakeholder input group that was recently re-chartered after a three-year period of inactivity. This welcomed legislation makes the committee a permanent part of the TSA, and we look forward to monitoring its progress in the Senate.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine may introduce the Secure International Air Cargo Act of 2012 within the next few months. The legislation would codify the Air Cargo Advanced Screening program into law before its pilot program expires. While the Airforwarders Association is confident that the ACAS program will enhance air cargo security, it does not believe that the time is right to make the ACAS a permanent part of the TSA’s security system. We believe that the pilot should run its course and continue to collect data, especially in relation to passenger airlines and their forwarder customers.
Perhaps the U.S. Customs and Border Protection should see the proposed ACAS legislation as a message to understand and implement shipment advanced data analysis more quickly. Delaying or failing to act means that the CBP will lose its flexibility in deciding how to run the program as Congress could step in to impose a more prescriptive and permanent solution. As with the MAP-21 bond requirement, legislators are quick to find solutions when government agencies and industry cannot, regardless of how those solutions may affect those they most concern.
— Brandon Fried is the executive director of the U.S. Airforwarders Association