Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security.
The House of Representatives recently passed a number of bills designed to combat the epidemic of dangerous drugs sweeping across the United States. No congressional district has been spared from this problem, and people are dying at an alarming rate from the use of fentanyl, bath salts, flakka, K2, Spice and other synthetic drugs. But lawmakers failed to act to close a major entry point for these terrible drugs into the United States: the global postal system.
Anyone with a laptop, wireless access and a credit card can order these poisons over the Internet from abroad and have them shipped directly to their home through the U.S. mail. This is not a new problem — Congress has held extensive hearings on this issue, starting as far back as 2000. According to the Department of Homeland Security, more than 340 million packages enter the United States through the international mail stream, with little or no electronic manifest data associated with them. Our federal law enforcement agencies have no way to perform risk assessments on incoming postal shipments before they arrive and are forced to manually screen millions upon millions of postal parcels in an attempt to intercept these deadly drugs.
In contrast, private transportation companies such as UPS and FedEx are required to provide electronic manifest data to U.S. Customs and Border Protection in advance of the packages arriving in this country, enabling systematic and more effective screening to try to ensure that these drugs are detected and seized. Meanwhile, our customs officers are left to guess the contents of huge sacks of parcels and packages — searching for needles in haystacks — entering the United States via the postal system.
Drug dealers know this and use the global postal system to deliver their deadly goods into our homes and communities. The Trade Act of 2002 requires that advanced electronic manifest data accompany packages coming into the United States via private shipping companies. However, rather than require the Postal Service to comply immediately with that requirement, the law directed the Department of Homeland Security and the Treasury Department, in consultation with the U.S. postmaster general, to determine whether it is “appropriate” to apply this important provision to the Postal Service.
Such a determination has yet to materialize. I would argue that it is not only appropriate to apply this safeguard to postal parcels but also critically important. When Congress reformed the Postal Service in 2006, it recognized this problem when it required that all laws, including customs laws, apply equally to the Postal Service and private delivery companies. Yet shipments coming in via the postal system are still subject to much less rigorous screening than private commercial shipments due to the lack of advanced electronic screening data.
Congress did not intend for the Postal Service, a government agency, to become the import vector of choice for drug dealers. A package is a package, however it is shipped. If we are going to defeat the epidemic of synthetic drugs, we must take every measure possible. Advanced electronic screening data must accompany all packages coming into the United States from overseas. It’s time to close the postal loophole. A rapidly growing flood of hundreds of millions of postal packages containing poisons is simply too big to ignore.