Wednesday, November 17, 2010

HR 6410 Introduced

Yesterday Congressman Markey (D, MA) introduced HR 6410, the Air Cargo Security Act. It would be easy to say that this bill was a direct response to the recent ‘toner bombs’ incidents in cargo shipments coming from Yemen, but Rep. Markey has been a proponent of aggressive cargo screening for quite some time.

Cargo Screening Standards

This bill would essentially apply the same screening standards for shipments going into cargo planes that are currently being imposed on cargo going on passenger planes within the United States. TSA would have 18 months to have 50% of all such cargo screened and three years to have 100% of all cargo screened. There is no distinction in the bill between domestic or foreign origination of the cargo flights for the purposes of the screening requirements.

Shipping Facility Inspections

The bill would also require TSA to inspect “shipping facilities for shipments of cargo transported in air transportation” {§44922(a)(1)}. The Administrator would have 30 days to establish this inspection program. I don’t see any definition of ‘shipping facility’ in this bill, so this could be a problematic area of concern to many manufacturers that ship via air cargo (including FedEx?) aircraft.

A separate paragraph in the same section of the bill would require TSA to enter into agreements with “civil aviation authorities, or other appropriate officials, of foreign countries” {§44922(a)(2)} to ensure that foreign shipping facilities making cargo shipments to the US would similarly be inspected.

Both of the above requirements would have a 30-day deadline and would require a report to Congress in 210 days. The domestic deadline would apply to the establishment of the inspection program; this would be impossible to comply with because of the need to write the appropriate regulations and put them thru the public comment process. Applying the same deadline to the foreign agreement requirement is even more difficult to comply with since TSA would have to work with such a large number of foreign governments whose time tables cannot be mandated by Congress.

Cargo Handler Training

The bill would also require the Secretary to establish a training and evaluation program for cargo handlers “to ensure that the cargo is properly handled and safeguarded from security breaches” (§4). This provision has reference to foreign cargo handlers (thank goodness) and is given a 180-day deadline. Establishing regulations for such a program might be able to be accomplished within that time frame, but to actually establish a training program (after those regulations define the program requirements) will take some additional time to develop and implement.

Knee-Jerk Legislation

I understand Rep. Markey’s interest in increasing the security around air cargo shipments, given the recent attempt to send bombs to the United States through this transport mode, but I think that the time-limits given in this bill impose unrealistic standards that would make compliance by DHS impossible. More thoughtful consideration and perhaps some consultation with TSA would have made for a more realistic piece of legislation.

Of course with the limited time left in the 111th Session, perhaps Rep. Markey never intended this to be actually considered or passed. If that is the case, he may be trying to force the air cargo industry into taking pre-emptive security measures to prevent bills like this from becoming law.

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