Extending the re-validation cycle for companies in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism by a year will not adversely impact supply chain security, according to Shawn Beddows, the U.S. Customs official directly in charge of the program.
The Obama administration's budget plan for fiscal year 2013 calls for a $5 million reduction in C-TPAT spending, with the money diverted instead to pay for frontline inspection operations. Most of the savings are to be achieved by scheduling follow-on verifications of trusted shippers' supply chain security practices every four years, instead of three.
Speaking with American Shipper
last Tuesday after a public meeting of the agency's main outside advisory panel, Beddows said Customs and Border Protection can always conduct a review of specific companies sooner than spelled out in the work plan if officials believe there is a need.
"We still reserve the right to speed up the process based on risk," he said. "It's not just a blanket statement. It just gives us some flexibility with the limited resources" at CBP's disposal.
A four-year revalidation cycle is also specified as the preferred interval in the SAFE Port Act of 2006.
C-TPAT is a voluntary certification program under which importers that meet or exceed minimum security criteria for their international cargo are eligible for expedited treatment at the border. The success of the program depends on importers demanding that their suppliers and transport providers follow the same security protocols.
Another possible change to C-TPAT is the addition of an export component. CBP officials, acquiescing to private sector demands for a program that would make it easier to comply with the cargo security programs of foreign governments, in recent months have said they are contemplating a security program for exporters.
Customs is expected to consider several approaches for export verification, including flipping the C-TPAT import criteria to exports or using a security checklist that is equivalent to ones used by European Union governments for their Authorized Economic Operator programs.
Beddows said the internal discussion within CBP about expanding C-TPAT to exports is in its infancy and has not reached the level of how the initiative would be implemented. The first task, he said, is for officials to determine what resources would be required.
The challenging financial environment within the federal government and, more specifically the Department of Homeland Security, could make it difficult to find extra money for an export initiative.
But cost-saving steps laid out in the DHS budget document for 2013 haven't trickled down to the C-TPAT program office yet, the acting director of C-TPAT told a reporter after the meeting.
According to the budget, funding for the C-TPAT web portal will be limited to maintenance, with scheduled enhancements for a next-generation portal pushed back.
The portal is a database that allows CBP to electronically process applications, issue audit reports, receive security profile-updates from companies and communicate with program members.
Portal 2.0, as the upgrade is referred to, involves a significant increase in the system's ability to link to various types of data and manage data exchange, which is especially important for implementing mutual recognition agreements with other countries so validations can be shared without companies having to be certified in each country in which they do business.
"Portal 2.0 is the future of C-TPAT and we need to make every effort to keep it on track, on as quick a timeline as possible," Beddows said.
"I've not been told to slow that production down," he added.
The budget says CBP will also trim costs by consolidating some C-TPAT field offices in the United States. There are seven strategically located offices around the country, but Beddows said the subject of folding some offices together has not been broached to him. — Eric Kulisch