U.S. federal agencies meet to discuss import safety
With the end of the fiscal year only a few weeks away, members of the Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center, better known as CTAC, gathered in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, to discuss their plans for the future. The 11-partner government agencies that have joined forces to focus on import safety met at the 5th annual OpsExpo operational planning meeting hosted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“One of the most important things that we do in getting ready for a new year is planning and trying to decide what we want to accomplish,” said Executive Assistant Commissioner of CBP’s Office of Trade Brenda Smith, who welcomed the nearly 100 attendees and gave the opening remarks. “This session is absolutely critical for that.”
Smith noted that one of the reasons that CTAC is so impressive is because the group represents diverse authorities, resources, missions, skills, and has access to a wide variety of information. “In the last 10-15 years, one of the things the government has recognized is that we can accomplish a lot more if we are organized and flexible enough to work together,” said Smith.
But she said, the challenges are twofold. “One is being flexible enough to understand that there may be a different way to do things or that someone else’s priority ought to take precedence over your own. The other is being smart enough to organize ourselves so that we leverage those things that we have available to us.”
Smith challenged the group further, asking them to look beyond the next 12 months and make plans for the next five years. “We’ve got a lot of change coming at us. We’ve been working together for the last two to three years to implement the Single Window. We’ve been working not only to drive the automation, but to understand and take advantage of the opportunities for our business processes. You all have a wealth of information coming at you now in electronic form that you can use to target, to assess risk, and to take operational action,” she said. “We need to take the long view and develop a vision for five years down the road and actually implement that vision.”
Bruce Foucart, the director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, which is managed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI, shared some of the results that have occurred because of the CTAC’s efforts. One example he spoke about was Operation Pangea, which involves shutting down online pharmacy websites that sell counterfeit goods and illicit medical equipment. HSI worked in tandem with CBP, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Interpol on the operation.
“Just last year alone Operation Pangea led to 393 arrests worldwide and the seizure of $53 million worth of illegal medications. Within the United States, HSI initiated 73 investigations related to counterfeit pharmaceuticals, making 35 arrests, receiving 38 indictments, and 38 convictions. We could not have done that without the intelligence provided from those of you who are in this room,” said Foucart.
CTAC, which was created in October 2009, initially focused solely on import safety. Since that time, environmental crimes that threaten the country’s natural resources and wildlife trafficking have been added. “There are a number of partner agencies that have approached us about joining CTAC that don’t necessarily have an import safety focus,” said Christopher Robertson, CTAC’s branch chief, who said that the center might broaden its scope again. “These agencies focus on items that pose national security risks or are related to economic security.”
Among those attending was Mario Jorquera, a senior engineer in the air enforcement division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. “This is my third OpsExpo,” said Jorquera. “We are always interested in future targeting opportunities and the fact that we can do that with CTAC is very important for us.” Jorquera explained that the EPA uses the targeting information to enforce the Clean Air Act. “All vehicles and engines in the U.S. have to be certified to show that they have met emission standards to prevent air pollution,” he said.
In the coming year, Jorquera said the EPA would like “to replicate the great success we’ve had during the past two years in targeting illegal vehicles and engines coming into the country. Having intelligence ahead of time so that we know when these goods are coming into the ports is important for us. It used to be that we were reactive. The shipments came in and we had to scramble to figure out if there was a problem,” said Jorquera. “Now we can see ahead of time if we need to be wary of something or simply let it go because it’s not a problem.”
Other attendees such as Richard Lower from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service came to the OpsExpo with the intent of joining CTAC. “We’re trying to get onboard as soon as possible,” said Lower, who explained that his agency is responsible for regulating the quality of certain imported fruits and vegetables. “We often work with other government agencies such as the FDA. There are certain commodities such as raisins, olives, peanuts, pistachios and dates that both FDA and USDA regulate and share the same concerns about. Being a part of CTAC would increase the cooperation and transparency between our agency and the FDA. It helps them and it helps us. That kind of cooperation is invaluable.”