ACI Files Comments to the US Customs and Border Protection: Uphold STOP Act Provisions

Re: Mandatory Advance Electronic Information for International Mail Shipments Interim Final Rule; Docket No. USCBP-2021-0009 CBP Dec. 21-04

To the attention of Secretary Mayorkas:

The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research (ACI) would like to take the opportunity to address the Mandatory Advance Electronic Information for International Mail Shipments interim final rule (IFR) issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to implement portions of the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act (STOP Act; P.L. 115-271, Title VIII). 

The Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act was designed to help law enforcement and security agencies to identify and prevent hazardous substances, such as synthetic opioids and other dangerous items, from traveling through the U.S Postal Service (USPS) into the United States. ACI has touted the critical nature of such measures and has previously noted, “The solutions created by the STOP Act will give law enforcement the tools necessary to begin stemming the intrusion of illicit items in the nation’s mail system. Specifically, this entails requirements on the USPS to collect and monitor advanced electronic data on shipments that enter the country. Such responsibilities would parallel the practices used by private delivery companies, which track every package and gather key data on the contents in order to assist coordination with U.S. Customs and Border Protection other federal securities entities.”[1]

The STOP Act as written provides a clear schedule for accelerated levels of compliance that has allotted U.S. institutions to set their own frameworks for operational change and resource adjustments in order to meet objectives. The measures of the law are rightfully thorough in that they establish provisions for the myriad of elements of potentially exploitable delivery. The posture of the IFR as proposed would undermine this comprehensive configuration and thus jeopardize the overall purposes of the STOP Act.  

In order to regain the trust of consumer communities in logistics and delivery markets, it is incumbent upon DHS to transparently detail the inflows of mail and packages and correspondingly provide data on the actions taken to assess each item, such that stakeholders and lawmakers can ascertain how exactly USPS and CPB are making good on assurances in this critical arena.

The circumstances surrounding the origin of the law should remain apparent for the Department, and more broadly for the Administration’s awareness. Unfortunately, for a 12-month period ending this past September, more than 87,000 Americans died of a drug overdose, surpassing the toll from any year since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s.[2] The continuation of such trends heightens the concern for muting policies or laws that are actively working to prevent dangerous substances from entering our country.

In a statement submitted by Robert Cintron Vice President, Logistics of United States Postal Service to the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, USPS was able to see the advance electronic data (AED) percentage for inbound international packages peak at 67 percent in January 2020, up from almost zero AED in the six years prior. While this is a demonstrated improvement, it is still cause for concern as the law called for an extensive grace period in the lead up to 100 percent compliance by January 1, 2021.

Cintron admitted that AED progress reversed as the coronavirus pandemic affected international shipments but expressed his belief that once international mail recovers, he expects the AED will as well. While there is no accounting for the exact effect the coronavirus pandemic had on this effort, the USPS is still responsible for fulfilling its obligations.

ACI further acknowledges and respects the USPS Inspector General’s role in assessing compliance, however concerns remain about the reticence of transparency and the redactions of key information that remain shielded from public review in their report.[3] Limiting the obfuscation in this regard, wherever feasible, and similarly elucidating the criteria through which foreign nations may be considered for any form exemptions, would represent prudent action on the part of the Department.

In closing, we trust that the Department shall not be unduly influenced by the notions that enforcement of AED obligations could hypothetically prompt retaliation from foreign postal services.[4] Direct causation cannot be automatically assumed and such potential externalities are largely immaterial to actions dictated by the statutes of the law. 

Ultimately, the STOP Act provisions must be held up to its full lifesaving potential in service to American consumers. Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

Steve Pociask, President/CEO, American Consumer Institute


[1] Trump signs bipartisan STOP Act, Bill will Help Close Loopholes in the Mail System, American Consumer Institute, October 24, 2018.

[2] Overdose Deaths Have Surged During the Pandemic, C.D.C. Data Shows, The New York Times, April 14, 2021.

[3] Implementing Advance Electronic Data: Challenges and Opportunities, Report Number RISC-WP-20-010, September 30, 2020.

[4] Mail Disruptions Loom as CBP Lags on Implementation of Opioid-Importation Law, Homeland Security Today, December 17, 2020.

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