Inspect arriving cargo when technology allows
Lawmakers agree to be flexible in requiring inspection of cargo destined for U.S. ports.
CONGRESSIONAL conferees have rejected a House proposal that would have overburdened the nation's sea ports and agreed on a more sensible timetable. Requiring inspection of all containers within three years, as proposed, would have shut down the nation's sea ports. A House-Senate conference instead has agreed to allow tests on new technology to be completed before requiring inspections of all cargo.
The House approved a comprehensive security bill in January that would have required all cargo on passenger jets be inspected within three years and all U.S.-bound maritime cargo to be scanned for nuclear bomb components within five years.
No technology for such scanning exists at a reasonable cost, although pilot projects to determine the feasibility are ongoing. Screening air cargo would cost $3.6 billion over the next decade and screening all ship cargo would cost even more, possibly hundreds of billions.
Conferees instead have agreed to a provision that would allow the secretary of homeland security to waive the mandate in two-year increments. The secretary would have to certify that the scanning system had yet to meet technological and logistical requirements.
Sens. Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Commerce Committee, and Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the homeland security committee, had urged that tests on the new technology be completed before inspections are required of 100 percent of cargo.
Hawaii receives 90 percent of its goods by ship. Most of the shipments to Hawaii originate in foreign countries and enter the United States at West Coast ports, where only 6 percent of containers are scanned by X-ray and only 6 percent of those are then inspected by hand.
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