If we can't inspect every one of the estimated 11 million ocean containers entering the United States each year, at least we should scan them. That's the thinking behind a proposal from Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and James Oberstar (D-MN). Nadler and Oberstar propose to plug what many see as a gaping hole in national security by mandating the scanning of all incoming containers.
Under Nadler and Oberstar's proposal, all shipping containers bound for the United States would have to be scanned for radiation and density at the port of origin. Each container would also be fastened with a tamper-proof seal that would alert U.S. authorities to a breach before the container entered U.S. waters. The representatives have offered their proposals as both an amendment to a maritime security bill and as a stand-alone bill dubbed the "Sail Only if Scanned" or S.O.S. Act.
The scanning proposal has not met with universal enthusiasm. The National Retail Federation (NRF), for instance, argues that the plan could result in costly delays. In a letter to the House Homeland Security Committee, Steve Pfister, NRF's senior vice president for government relations, wrote that feeder ports in places like Southeast Asia and Africa "simply do not possess the capacity to scan and screen large numbers of containers." Should the proposed legislation take effect, he argued, those containers would have to be unloaded off a vessel, scanned and reloaded at major ports like Hong Kong or Singapore before heading to the United States.