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Cargo security Measures in the 108th Congress

Cargo security has been considered in many forms during the 108th Congress. Two measures became law, but numerous others failed to receive congressional approval.

A cargo security amendment added to the 2004 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill became P.L. 108-90. The provision requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to research, develop, and procure certified systems to inspect and screen air cargo on passenger aircraft at the earliest date possible. Until such technology is procured and installed, the secretary must take all possible actions to enhance the "known shipper" program to prohibit high-risk cargo from being transported on passenger aircraft.

The Coast Guard authorization bill for 2005 became PL 108-293. The original bill included a controversial provision that would have required that Coast Guard representatives review the security plans of all foreign vessels entering U.S. waters. (Under existing law, the Coast Guard is required to review only the security plans of domestic vessels.)

At a hearing before the bill was passed, Coast Guard Commandant Thomas H. Collins contended that the agency did not have the money or personnel to complete the task, which would have required reviewing plans for more than 10,000 foreign vessels. In the final version of the law, the Coast Guard is required to write a report detailing the requirements and actual costs of reviewing the security plans of foreign vessels.

Based on the information in the report, lawmakers intend to revisit the issue. The report will include a breakdown of the numbers and types of vessels that entered the United States over the previous one-year period, the costs for inspecting such ships and their cargo, as well as detailed costs for personnel, equipment, and funds necessary to review security plans for foreign vessels.

Several other bills, which did not become law, addressed cargo security issues. One bill (S. 165) that would have required that cargo shipped via aircraft be inspected for security reasons was approved by the Senate but was not considered in the House of Representatives.

Under S.165, cargo plane operators would have been required to secure the operations and cargo acceptance areas at the airports served and conduct background checks for all employees. Under the bill, DOT would have established a security-training program for anyone who handles air cargo.

Two identical cargo screening bills (H.R. 1010 and H.R. 1392) would have mandated inspections of all cargo entering the United States, but neither bill was considered by its referring committee. H.R. 1010 would have required that all cargo--both bulk and in containers--carried on board ships or airplanes be inspected before it entered the United States. The inspection would have included a verification that cargo containers had not been tampered with. Also, inspectors would have had to inspect the rest of the ship or aircraft for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. The inspections would have taken place at the last port of call or airport before entering the United States and would have been conducted by employees of the Homeland Security Department.

H.R. 1392 would have required the inspection of all cargo carried on commercial trucks entering the United States from Canada or Mexico.