Cargo safety investigation requested

Little action has been taken to secure air cargo aboard commercial passenger and cargo aircraft since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, members of the House of Representatives told the General Accounting Office in a March 16 letter. The congressmen want GAO Comptroller General David Walker to investigate air cargo security procedures.

Less than 5 percent of the 2.8 million tons of cargo shipped on passenger aircraft are screened for security purposes, and it is unclear what this screening involves, the letter said.

The letter was signed by Reps. Tom Davis, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee; Christopher Shays, chairman of the Government Reform subcommittee on national security, emerging threats and international relations; Christopher Cox and Jim Turner, chairman and ranking of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, respectively. The letter was also signed by Reps. Dave Camp and Loretta Sanchez, chairman and ranking member of the Select Committee's subcommittee on infrastructure and border security, respectively; and by Rep. Ed Markey, a member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security.

Although the Transportation Security Administration has taken steps to improve the security of air cargo, it is unclear how much air cargo is inspected by machine or by hand, and how secure that cargo is, the letter said.

The letter asked the GAO to investigate:

  • What federal actions are planned or ongoing that will improve the security of cargo shipped on planes from U.S. and non-U.S. locations.

  • What actions by foreign governments, passenger carriers and all-cargo carriers are planned or ongoing that will improve the security of cargo shipped to the United States from other countries.

  • What domestic passenger carriers, all-cargo carriers and freight forwarders have done to improve the security of air cargo shipped within the United States or to the United States from abroad.

  • How the actions above are consistent with risk management best practices.

  • To what extent technology is available to screen 100 percent of air cargo.

  • The Aviation and Transportation Security Act requires all cargo on commercial passenger aircraft be screened. It also requires the TSA to put in place a system to ensure the security of cargo on all-cargo aircraft. So far, TSA has created an Air Cargo Strategic Plan, begun a random inspection process, and outlined steps to improve the Known Shipper Program, the letter said. The Known Shipper program allows shippers with established business histories to ship cargo on planes.

    "The Committee expects that TSA, in conjunction with DHS and private-sector partners, will use these initiatives as building blocks for developing and implementing a comprehensive approach to managing the risk posed by airborne cargo," the letter said.

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