Sunday, August 14, 2011

TSA and Pepper Spray - A Story of What NOT to Do

Peter Quinter, Esq.
Our beloved Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has the responsibility of screening passengers to "ensure that certain items and persons prohibited from flying don’t board commercial airliners."  This is accomplished through 43,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) located at 450 airports around the United States.  While I am waiting in line to be screened, there seems always to be one energetic TSO screaming at my fellow passengers to take our shoes off, remove most liquids, take our belts off, take out our laptops, etc.. it is hard to remember that the official Mission of the TSA is to "protect the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce."  I do have one funny story to tell you about the TSA and a certain passenger.

While the TSA regulations specifically prohibit the carrying on board an aircraft, or even into the airport, any weapon or explosive device, a particular passenger had a pepper spray pen with him. The pepper spray pen was not detected by the TSO when the passenger's body and luggage went through those radiation-emitting devices.

That is bad enough, but what the passenger did next was a mistake. After passing through TSA, he then approached the crew of the aircraft at his gate of departure, and handed over the pepper spray pen to the gate agents with some sort of statement that the TSOs did not detect the pen during the screening process.  Predictably, the passenger was then approached by law enforcement, interrogated, and not allowed to fly on that aircraft. The passenger subsequently received a Letter of Investigation from the TSA with the threat of a $11,000 penalty for attempting to compromise a security system utilized by TSA.

Seems to me that the gate agents and TSA should simply have said "thank you" to the passenger for turning over the pepper spray pen, rather than going on a witch hunt.  Perhaps the lesson the TSA wants to get across to people is not to tell the truth. If the passenger had kept his mouth shut, he would have kept his pepper spray pen, not missed his flight, and not have to pay a potential penalty of $11,000.  Plus, I guess now the TSOs will start yelling at passengers that the list of prohibited items includes pepper spray pens.

One more thing.  While it is prohibited to carry on board an aircraft any pepper spray, you may still transport it in your checked luggage, according to the TSA website.  Go figure!

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For questions or comments, please contact:

Peter Quinter, Partner, Customs and International Trade Department
peter.quinter@gray-robinson.com or (954) 270-1864

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Homeland Security Says U.S. Customs Bonds are Insufficient

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a report criticizing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  In a June 2011 report entitled "Efficacy of Customs and Border Protection's Bonding Process," DHS concluded that up to $12 billion in single transaction bonds for importers may fail to be collected.   Considering that approximately $2 trillion of goods are imported into the United States each year, and that CBP collects about $32 billion in duties, taxes, and fees, $12 billion is a heck of a lot of money to lose.

Let's discuss some fundamental customs laws and policies first.  A bond is a contract between a principal (i.e. importer) and a surety (i.e. insurance company), with CBP serving as the beneficiary when an importer fails to pay any duties, taxes, and fees assessed by CBP on the imported merchandise.  The single transaction bond amount for the importer established by CBP is typically 1 to 3 times the total value of the imported merchandise for that particular shipment, plus duties, taxes, and fees.  If the importer does not pay the assessed amounts promptly, a liquidated damages claim is issued by the Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures (FP&F) Office of CBP against the importer and the surety company. 

Although in theory, this type of insurance policy should pay CBP in full every time, it does not really work that way.  Blame it, in part, on anti-dumping and countervailing duty cases.  The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that it takes over 3 years in anti-dumping or countervailing duty cases between the initial entry of merchandise subject to an anti-dumping or countervailing duty order, and when the final duty bill is issued to the importer.   Importers that are unwilling or unable to pay, or have already gone out of business, result in a loss of revenue to CBP.

According to the OIG Report, CBP has written off tens of millions of dollars "because of inaccurate, incomplete, or missing bonds" such as a lack of signatures or inaccurate transaction numbers.   Moreover, it turns out that CBP is not doing a good job of keeping copies of the bonds, but often relies upon the customs brokers to do so.  The OIG Report concluded that "there is a potential for collusion between the broker and the importer."  Well, at least, for once, DHS and CBP don't blame this problem on those pesky customs lawyers.

So, you ask, what will happen now.  No surprise this time - CBP will certainly re-evaluate its current monetary guidelines, last significantly updated in November 2010, to establishing higher bond limits, especially for food and drug products regulated by the FDA which pose a potential threat to the public health and safety.  Importers should expect to see such letters from CBP's Revenue Division at the National Finance Center located in Indianapolis, Indiana, and more liquidated damages claims from the FP&F offices around the country.
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For questions or comments, please contact:
Peter Quinter, Partner, Customs and International Trade Department
peter.quinter@gray-robinson.com or (954) 270-1864