Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in her “State of Homeland Security” address that the best method for identifying threatening cargo is to collect data on all cargo shipments so security experts can determine what is safe and what presents a risk. Airforwarders Association (AfA) Executive Director Brandon Fried recently wrote a piece for Air Cargo World about the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy for isolating and stopping threatening cargo and how the Air Cargo Advanced Screening (ACAS) initiative helps make that happen. He compared identifying threatening cargo to finding a needle in a series of haystacks.
“The best hope at present for a haystack sorter (i.e. U.S. security experts) is the Air Cargo Advanced Screening program,” wrote Fried. “Analyzing shipment data before departure provides an opportunity to pinpoint those shipments that may be the most threatening.”
This program is important, not only because it helps the United States achieve tighter cargo security but because it does so while respecting and fostering an efficient supply chain. This appreciation for the necessity of security and efficiency seems to be a growing trend in the U.S. government, as it was also reflected in the administration’s Supply Chain Security Strategy released in February.
There are three phases in the ACAS pilot, each focusing on a different group within the air cargo industry. Phase 1 reviews shipment data from express carriers (e.g., FedEx, UPS); Phase 2 focuses on data from passenger airlines and forwarders; and Phase 3 works with all-cargo airlines. The principal is sound, but how has the air cargo industry received and critiqued the pilot?
Fried notes a meeting between the Global Air Cargo Advisory Group (GACAG) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials. GACAG found a welcome reception and a DHS agency ready to work with the air cargo industry to achieve higher levels of security without impeding industry business models and efficient supply chains. GACAG did note some concerns about the ACAS pilot. Fried explains:
“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.”
At present, ACAS is voluntary, although legislation introduced to the U.S. Congress could eventually mandate the screening of cargo before departure. Fried notes there may also be a proposed rule introduced by the end of the year. While forwarders and carriers should make their voices and needs apparent to DHS and U.S. lawmakers before any new mandates, it seems clear the federal government and its security agencies are beginning to understand the delicate but essential balance between security and efficiency.