No Technological "Silver Bullet" Seen for Supply Chain Security

Retail industry association cautions against "superficial measures" for securing U.S. borders

Retail industry association cautions against "superficial measures" for securing U.S. borders

Arlington, VA — March 31, 2006 — The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) applauded Congress this week for focusing on ways to further secure the maritime supply chain, but the association cautioned against settling for superficial measures that would create a false sense of security.

RILA urged members of Congress to engage the industry in a substantive dialogue to identify ways to strengthen supply chain security.

"As the largest group of users in the global maritime supply chain, RILA members have an enormous stake in cargo security and are committed to helping the government further enhance security throughout the system," said Jonathan Gold, vice president of global supply chain policy. "We strongly believe that security legislation, regulations and public-private partnerships can achieve the dual objectives of enhancing security while continuing to facilitate legitimate global commerce."

Critical Role for Private Sector

Highlighting written testimony submitted this week to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Gold reminded members of Congress that RILA and private sector stakeholders have played a critical leadership role in improving supply chain security efforts.

"From requiring new security language in contracts with their business partners to testing new technologies and ways to identify container tampering, it is private sector stakeholders that have been the innovators in securing their supply chains to protect their employees, customers and businesses," said Gold.

Gold said that RILA was fully supportive of the Senate committee's efforts to improve supply chain security to prevent nuclear and radiological material from entering our country.

"While it is preferable to have that screening done overseas at ports participating in the Container Security Initiative, we will need a vigorous detection regime at our domestic ports as well," said Gold. "It should be the highest priority for U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to ensure that those ports participating in the Container Security Initiative have the best technology available to detect radiation and that domestic ports achieve universal nuclear and radiological detection capability."

Beware "Unproven Gadgets"

Gold reminded members of Congress that there is no technological "silver bullet" for supply chain security and therefore legislation should outline policies and goals and let DHS find the smartest and most effective way to meet those goals.

"DHS must retain the flexibility to consider a variety of new technologies, undertake appropriate testing and determine which technologies have the greatest reliability before being adopted by the government and industry rather than being forced into deploying unproven 'gadgets,'" said Gold.

Gold also stressed that supply chain security is a global issue that cannot be effectively addressed unilaterally.

"As DHS correctly recognizes, resources are best spent on pursuing measures that push our country's borders out so we can detect and investigate potentially hazardous shipments thousands of miles from our shore rather than after arrival in the U.S., which is why CBP receives and screens information about every U.S.-bound shipment prior to its being loaded at a foreign port," Gold continued. "Government and industry can work together to increase the quality of the information that CBP routinely receives, while ensuring that proprietary information does not fall into the wrong hands."

Practicality of Inspections

Gold also asserted that while RILA supports 100 percent screening of high risk containers, a policy requiring 100 percent physical inspection of the over 11 million containers that arrive in U.S. ports each year would be neither effective as a deterrent nor feasible operationally as a security enhancement measure.

"Rather than enhancing security, setting an arbitrary number of physical inspections of containers would only result in commerce grinding to a halt, in effect creating much of the same harm to the nation's and the world's economy that a terrorist incident would cause," said Gold. "Inspections are most effective when focused on areas of risk. CBP should continue to focus on identifying high-risk cargo and physically inspecting 100 percent of the cargo that is deemed high risk by the National Targeting Center."

Gold concluded: "We look forward to a robust and consistent dialogue with the U.S. Government over how best to move forward, especially now that these critical issues are generating the attention they deserve. We must not let our attention be diverted from finishing the crucial work that needs to be done."

RILA's written testimony can be found by visiting

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) is a trade association whose member companies include more than 400 retailers, product manufacturers and service suppliers, which together account for more than $1.4 trillion in annual sales.

Additional Articles of Interest

— Imminent terrorist attacks or no, your competitive advantage demands that you secure your company's supply chain. Read more in "Supply Chain Security: Is Your Company Complacent or Engaged?," in the February/March 2005 issue of Supply & Demand Chain Executive.

— For a look at how Tyco Fire & Security is tackling trade compliance issues in its global supply chain, see "Turning Global Trade Compliance Into a Competitive Advantage," in the August/September 2004 issue of Supply & Demand Chain Executive.

— For more information on the global supply chain, with a focus on security issues, see "Building the Secure Supply Chain," the Net Best Thing article in the June/July 2003 issue of iSource Business (now Supply & Demand Chain Executive) magazine.