U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan D. Bersin today updated members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on efforts to modernize, streamline and strengthen CBP operations at ports of entry.
Bersin spoke to members of the Chamber’s national security task force, chaired by former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Both Ridge and Bersin said that it is required that security and economic vitality be seen as dual imperatives at ports of entry.
“At CBP, we believe security and facilitation of international travel and trade are actually the same phenomenon,” Bersin told the group. He explained that the old model of inspection at the U.S. doorstep is outdated and insufficient in a post-9/11 world. “We now look at flows of people and goods, from before departure overseas through arrival.” The information gathered on these flows enables informed decisions on admissibility, but also can and must be used to better accommodate faster, cheaper admission of cargo.
Advance information is critical to securing these flows, Bersin said. In exchange for timely information, CBP pledges to protect the information and use it only for its intended purpose, and to streamline the inspection process for those importers and travelers who agree to provide it.
Bersin, who spoke before the national business association last December, gave an update on a cargo security pilot that he said has been successful on two fronts. He reminded the group of the incident involving bombs hidden in printer cartridges by al Qaeda operatives and sent to the U.S. via overnight shippers UPS and FedEx. From this incident stemmed a pilot project, the Air Cargo Advance Screening system, where overnight shippers provide advance information about cargo shipments before they leave overseas facilities. CBP, working with TSA, analyzes these packages and compares them across a wide array of databases.
This encouraging pilot has already screened more than 2 million packages in its early phase, Bersin said, adding that it will expand to more international sites in the near future.
“But what is truly remarkable about this pilot is that it was created as a true public-private collaboration,” he said, not a government-conceived program requiring private participation. CBP and representatives of express carriers were able to share details on their operations and needs. The express carriers “embedded within CBP,” Bersin said, and the partnership was able to devise and launch within six months a successful pilot that is meeting the needs of both entities.
Bersin asked for a similar partnership and level of support from the Chamber and private sector as the U.S. undertakes modernization of overall customs operations. The question that must be asked, Bersin said about current customs protocols that have been built in layers over more than 200 years, is “does this make sense in our current environment, for our current operations?”