SUPPLY CHAIN SECURITY: Feasibility and Cost-Benefit Analysis Would Assist DHS and Congress in Assessing and Implementing the Requirement to Scan 100 Percent of U.S.-Bound Containers, GAO (October 2009, CORE1066)

Summary: The document provides a comprehensive outlook on the past and recent US initiatives on container security. The report focuses on the challenges that prevent global implementation of the 100% scanning of US-bound containers in foreign ports with both non-intrusive inspection (NII) technologies and radiation detection devices, as mandated by the SAFE Port Act and the 9/11 Acts. The 100% scanning is believed to deter and detect terrorist attempts of smuggling weapons of mass destruction (WMD) into the United States inside a cargo container. The reports dates back to late 2009, so the description of the current state of the US container security it provides is not necessarily no longer accurate. The report anticipates that the implementation of the 100% scanning requirement will be delayed due to various problems that were identified during the precursory Secure Freight Initiative (SFI) pilots. These problems are related mainly to port logistics (routing of containers through scanning sites), employee safety (radiation of screening equipment) and technical constraints (equipment failures and poor quality of scanning images). Today, we know that the US authorities have deferred the implementation already twice, first to 2014 and for the second time until 2016. Altogether, this GAO report describes in detail the challenges of the 100% scanning law and elaborates some ongoing alternative risk-based approaches to container security: (1) the strategic trade lane strategy that aims to establish 100% scanning only in high terrorist risk foreign sea ports and (2) the “10 + 2” data requirements that importers and ocean carriers must submit to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) prior to a container is loaded aboard a US-bound vessel so that the US authorities can calculate more precise risk for each shipping container. This report includes relevant information for all the CORE’s demonstrations that involve US-bound maritime transportation. The source document is available at:

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Full review: The GAO document provides interesting insights on the evolution of the US container security regulations over the years. This is useful supportive information for CORE demonstrations that involve maritime shipping of containers into the US. The GM demonstration of the WP9 for example covers exports of automobile parts from the EU into the US by transatlantic ocean transport. If the US Congress does not repeal or defer the 100% scanning requirement, the port of Felixstove that participates in the demonstration, need to start scanning also all GM’s US-bound containers. Likewise, the FALACUS demo (WP14), which is about shipping of ceramic tiles from Italy to the US, must take into consideration the possible effects of the 100% scanning requirement. This demonstration is particularly interesting from the 100% scanning requirement standpoint because some ceramic tiles are naturally radioactive, and thus they tend to trigger false alarms in the radiation controls. Also the P&G demonstrator in the WP17, that focuses on shipping of consumer goods into the US, the possible impact of the 100% scanning regulation.

Besides the demonstrations, the CORE’s risk cluster might benefit from the detailed analysis of the risk-based approaches to the US container security, such as the strategic trade lane strategy and the “10 + 2” data requirement. All demonstrations might benefit from lessons learnt how GAO has advises DHS and CBP to carry out cost-benefit analyses for the US container security programs (especially the Secure Freight Initiative).


  • Combating Nuclear Smuggling: Efforts to Deploy Radiation Detection Equipment in the United States and in Other Countries. GAO-05-840T. Washington, D.C.: June 21, 2005.
  • Container Security: A Flexible Staffing Model and Minimum Equipment Requirements Would Improve Overseas Targeting and Inspection Efforts. GAO-05-557. Washington, D.C.: April 26, 2005.
  • Bakshi, N., Flynn, S. E., & Gans, N. (2011). Estimating the operational impact of container inspections at international ports. Management Science, 57(1), 1-.‐‑20.

Full citation:

U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), 2009. Supply Chain Security Feasibility and Cost-Benefit Analysis Would Assist DHS and Congress in Assessing and Implementing the Requirement to Scan 100 Percent of U.S.-Bound Containers.


Additional keywords: Ocean transportation, counter-terrorism, non-intrusive inspection


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