Learning to love co-creation

When you first hear it, “co-creation” sounds like another one of those mysterious Washington, D.C., words that don’t make sense to people outside the Beltway. But based on my experience representing the Airforwarders Association on the development of the Air Cargo Advanced Screening (ACAS) initiative, it appears the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency is taking co-creation to heart and is determined to make it a term that we can all learn to love.

Co-creation is the way CBP describes its efforts to develop viable and lasting solutions that facilitate trade and better enforce laws in parallel with partners in the commercial trade community, the U.S. government and abroad. In the case of ACAS, it serves as the basis for a partnership between the government and private industry to use seven shipment data elements to assess risk on cargo before being loaded on flights to the U.S. The program envisions that CBP, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the airlines and freight forwarders will work together to retrieve this data for targeting as early in the process as possible, thereby enabling CBP and TSA to make a risk-based decision to load, examine or issue an order not to load the shipment in question.

To make ACAS as effective as possible, CBP has been sponsoring a voluntary pilot program with about 2 million shipments, mostly involving integrated carriers. While the pilot has started off well, there are a number of critical issues that we in the forwarder community have raised and would like to see addressed before CBP issues its imminent rule-making.

The AfA recently joined with others in the forwarder community to call on CBP and TSA to hear our concerns and try to address them. Essentially, we decided to put the entire concept of co-creation to the test.

One of our primary concerns is the scope of the rulemaking itself. Industry believes that the rule should be limited to only the data elements identified in the pilot program, that those elements should be filed prior to loading or departure at the last point of departure, and that messaging instructions to the filer should be concise and not go beyond resolutions that fall within the purview of TSA.

We also want to make sure that any ACAS rule should maintain a level playing field for all filers without creating an unfair competitive business advantage for one over another, regardless of the industry segment. This is critical in a highly complex and diverse industry that is comprised of  are more than 4,000 forwarding companies ranging in size from huge multinational organizations with offices around the world to small mom-and-pops that rely on an extensive network of independent agents and overseas airports.

In letters to CBP and TSA, we also outlined a range of more specific concerns that we feel need to be addressed. We’d like the process for messaging and mitigation on ACAS filings to be thoroughly tested and verified, and we’d like the question of penalties and bonding for filers to be resolved. The way that penalties are assessed needs to be refined to give forwarders the opportunity to get themselves into compliance, and the bonding issue regarding overseas forwarders needs to be addressed. And we have additional questions involving trusted shipper rule sets, how targeting directives will mesh with U.S. screening protocols in foreign countries and what happens to in-transit cargo that could require additional screening in countries where the cargo stops on its way to the U.S.

All of these and more were outlined in our industry leaders to CBP and TSA. And you know what? CBP responded. Not on every issue, but the agency announced that the ACAS pilot has been extended for another year and that the number of forwarders participating in the pilot will be expanded. This is an indication to me that the agency hears our concerns and is willing to get these issues resolved in the fullness of time.

In a city where partisan bickering frequently stalls legislation, CBP’s employing co-creation as a framework for an advanced data targeting program – and particularly in responding to forwarder concerns – is highly encouraging. Since other countries plan to use the ACAS program as a guide for their similar required initiatives, getting it right through stakeholder engagement will not only promote global regulatory harmonization, but will also make aviation worldwide safer.

Brandon Fried is the executive director of the U.S. Airforwarders Association

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