WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., and Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Ranking Member Norm Coleman, R-Minn., reacted Thursday to a Department of Homeland Security report on an 18 month-old pilot program designed to test the viability of 100 percent cargo scanning at all maritime ports.

The Department reported on progress at seven, relatively low-volume ports and concluded that 100 percent cargo scanning is possible at small ports. The report also found that the cargo data captured by the Custom and Border Patrol’s scanning systems can be successfully integrated into CBP’s existing system for targeting problem containers. The report also noted, however, that the cost to the U.S. government for scanning cargo at just seven port terminals was $60 million, meaning the current methodology for scanning would be very expensive, and that scanning transshipped cargo remains one of the most challenging obstacles to 100 percent screening and needs more study.

Lieberman said: “The DHS report provides valuable data on its 100 percent maritime cargo scanning pilot program that gives us a good idea of what is working and what is not working. For example, I am pleased to learn that expected delays and bottlenecks failed to materialize and that 100 percent scanning at low volume ports is entirely possible. Unfortunately, the challenges and the costs increase at higher volume ports, and the Department is not confident it can detect the presence of nuclear materials that may be hidden in cargo that emits radiation naturally. Disappointingly, the report provides no clear roadmap for where to go from here. DHS refers to future expansion to ‘high-risk trade corridors’ but provides no strategy or timetable for doing so. Clearly, the Department must continue to test its procedures at larger ports and explain to Congress if it can proceed toward 100 percent cargo screening at all ports or explain why it may not be possible.”

Collins said: “Until X-ray scanning technology is proven effective at detecting radiological material and not disruptive of trade, requiring the scanning of all U.S. bound cargo, regardless of its risk, at every foreign port is misguided and provides a false sense of security,” Senator Collins said. “Under the SAFE Port Act, all cargo designated as high-risk at foreign ports is already scanned for radiation and X-rayed. In addition, cargo entering the U.S. at all major seaports is scanned for radiation. These security measures currently in place are part of a layered, risk-based method to ensure cargo entering the U.S. is safe.”

Coleman said: “I am encouraged that the pilot projects have demonstrated that the Secure Freight Initiative can be successful in certain smaller ports and that real-time transmission of scanning data is feasible. There certainly is some promise in deploying the Secure Freight Initiative to certain high-threat corridors as part of our comprehensive port security strategy. However, the pilot program provided significant insight into the complex challenges we still face in scanning 100 percent of maritime cargo before it enters the United States. Numerous questions still remain regarding scanning technology, processes, funding and international collaboration. DHS should begin to provide a path forward to address these issues as part of its Secure Freight Initiative strategy to be released later this year.”

The SAFE Port Act of 2006 required implementation of a pilot 100 percent cargo scanning program at seven ports as part of the Secure Freight Initiative. DHS was to report back by April 13, 2008, on the pilot program’s initial progress. The Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 required that within five years, 100 percent of maritime cargo be scanned before it’s loaded on ships in foreign ports bound for the U.S., although the Secretary of Homeland Security would have the authority to extend that deadline if necessary.