Washington (AP) - Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers Wednesday that the agency cannot meet its 2012 deadline for screening all cargo coming into the U.S. for radiological and nuclear materials.
At her first hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee, Napolitano said the 2012 deadline set by Congress is not going to work.
"To do 100 percent screening requires agreements with many countries," Napolitano said, echoing a position taken by officials in the Bush administration.
A law passed by Congress in 2007 requires the Homeland Security Department to screen all cargo headed for the United States by 2012. About 11.5 million containers come into the U.S. each year.
Those who support the 100 percent screening policy say that knowing what is inside these containers could prevent a disaster.
Total screening also could significantly slow commerce at busy ports, and at least 27 countries and major industry associations have raised significant concerns with how they would be affected by the law.
Among the major obstacles to meeting the deadline is deploying trained U.S. officials to more than 700 foreign ports to operate scanning equipment.
Napolitano said the agency currently screens almost all cargo containers considered suspicious. She has said she agrees with the concept of catching threats before they reach the United States.
Customs officials compare cargo screening with how a medical technician operates X-ray machinery - a trained eye looking for signs of suspicious contents. There is currently no technology that allows a computer to do all the screening.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers Wednesday that the agency cannot meet its 2012 deadline for screening all cargo coming into the U.S. for radiological and nuclear materials.