I am both honored and thrilled to report that I received a call from Liz Schmelzinger, CBP’s newly appointed Director of C-TPAT. Ms. Schmelzinger comes to this position with a distinguished background and government career. In 2014 she received the Secretary’s Award for Excellence 2014 and in 2015 she received the Secretary's Meritorious Service Award 2015 - U.S. – Canada Land, Rail, Maritime and Air Preclearance Agreement Team.
We had a very frank and open discussion about the program focusing on many of the issues I citied in both articles. CBP understands that the program is broken and, under the guise and direction of CBP Senior Leadership, is committed to fixing it.
Among some of Ms. Schmelzinger’s initial priorities are reworking the C-TPAT Portal to make it more useful for CBP and user friendly for the trade. This of course is an imperative because it is the centerpiece and historical record of the entire program. And as it stands today, the C-TPAT Portal 2.0 is essentially useless in collecting relevant security data and being a tool that can be relied upon to help score an applicant or member’s security risk and whether or not they meet the minimum security criteria.
Another item on Liz’s list is “communication”. Hopefully now when you call or e-mail a CBP Supply Chain Security Specialist (SCSS) they will answer or respond. If they don’t, within a reasonable amount of time, please do not hesitate to report it. Many times an immediate answer isn’t always possible and as business professionals we understand that; but to simply ignore a person’s call or e-mail is downright disrespectful. I may sound like an old codger and I know that times have changed, but I believe we a society owe the others we interact with the common courtesy of a reply when a legitimate question is posed. This is especially in a government-to-business program that promotes itself as a “Partnership”.
To be sure, the program has a number of opportunities for improvement; there is an abundance of low hanging fruit. But of course sometimes change within the government can be likened to trying to turn the Queen Mary 180° on a dime. I must say however, I was encouraged after our call and Liz seems to know exactly what she wants to focus on in the early stages which is good news for the trade community.
For companies who might possibly be thinking about resigning or stepping out of the program, I would highly recommend that you consider giving it another year or so. Liz has a lot of work to do and she knows it, but I suspect that we will begin to see some meaningful changes early next year and that a C-TPAT Conference next summer or fall will prove to be a critical litmus test for the program.