Clock Ticking on Aviation Cargo Screening Mandate

By Priscilla Ybarra and Sara Peck
The Transportation Security Administration has been slow to move towards the goal of screening 100 percent of cargo loaded aboard passenger aircraft despite substantial congressional funding, said the Government Accountability Office.

“I’m concerned that we’re closing our eyes to technologies presented by smaller businesses and other nations,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Miss., at a House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation
security and infrastructure protection.

GAO conducted a study of TSA’s efforts to meet the February 2009
deadline of 50 percent screening and 100 screening by 2010, and found
several troubling deficiencies. TSA is currently working towards
domestic cargo scanning, but not foreign freight entering the United
States, said John Sammon, TSA assistant administrator.

“Our interpretation of (the 9/11 Commission Act) was that we’re talking
about shipments originating in the United States,” Sammon said.

Cathleen Berrick, director of homeland security and justice issues for
the GAO, said TSA has not laid out any specific plan to meet the 2009
and 2010 deadlines, nor has it appropriated enough additional staff or
funding to cargo scanning other than a pilot program conducted at
several airports. TSA has set up scanning for certain types of cargo,
which poses an additional security threat, she said.

Sammon said TSA puts great faith in a supply chain system, where
certified “known shippers” can voluntarily sign up to be inspected and
self-scan their freight. Third parties and other private organizations
that could scan cargo would lessen the burden on airports, he said. The
“plan B,” Sammon said, is to scan all cargo at airports, which Berrick
said would cause major congestion and is an impractical option.

Subcommittee members said the supply chain method gives terrorists
numerous opportunities to place explosives and stowaways on passenger
airplanes. In the event of an attack, lawmakers said, the government
has no accountability, and too much responsibility rests on the private

“What do you then say to the public when they ask: ‘Where was
government?’” said Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y.

Sammon maintained that TSA will conform to the commission’s standards
come the deadline in August 2010. “If by August freight hasn’t been
scanned, it won’t fly,” Sammon insisted.

Topics: Homeland Security, Air Transportation, Robotics, Homeland Security, Science and Engineering Technology, Homeland Security

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