Welcome to Weise Wednesday! Twice a month we will share a brief Q&A with the former U.S. Commissioner of Customs, Mr. George Weise. If you have questions, we encourage you to send them to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Q. I understand you made a presentation to the World BASC Congress in Santo Domingo last week. Can you tell us about it?

A. I was pleased to receive the invitation from the World BASC Organization to participate in a conference commemorating the 20th anniversary of the creation of BASC. I was invited to speak about the circumstances that led to the creation of the BASC program, which was launched during the period I served as Commissioner of U.S. Customs in the early 1990s.

 

The beginnings of BASC

Today, BASC is a private sector organization with over 3500 members leading the charge for companies to adopt best-in-class supply chain security practices. But when we created BASC, it was known as the Business Anti-Smuggling Coalition.  The program was created in partnership with the U.S. business community to address a serious drug smuggling problem.

When I became Commissioner in 1993, the agency faced some difficult challenges. In the face of tight and shrinking budgets, the volume of legitimate trade was growing rapidly, and drug smuggling was reaching record levels, particularly along the southwest border of the United States. 

It became clear that much of the drug smuggling was taking place in shipping containers crossing our borders. At that time, we discovered that smuggling organizations were successfully infiltrating the supply chain of legitimate companies, under what we referred to as “internal conspiracies.” The smugglers would find a way to get bags of drugs into containers at some point before the containers crossed the border. Co-conspirators would then find a way to remove the drugs before the container reached its ultimate destination.

 

Building a partnership between Customs and the business community

As the problem continued, the agency faced strong Congressional pressure to stop and examine more cargo containers entering the U.S. At that time, there were few examples of Customs and the business community working in partnership to address challenges. Quite the contrary, the relationship between Customs and the business community could best be described as adversarial.  

As we struggled to find a solution that would allow the smooth flow of legitimate trade, while addressing the problem of drug smuggling, I was approached by a group of importers, led by Fermin Cuza, who was then Vice President of Mattel.

The importers were sympathetic to the plight Customs was facing. They were concerned that Customs could create bottlenecks and delays at the border if there was a large increase in physical examinations of containers. They also wanted to make clear that they did not want their companies being associated with drug smuggling.

Over the next several months, we hammered out the BASC program whereby private companies, working with Customs, would voluntarily implement best practices to secure their global supply chains. Examples included requiring background security checks of any employees at the manufacturing facility that had access to the containers and improving the physical security of the loading docks with enhanced lighting and secure fencing. Similar measures were instituted by the trucking companies moving the goods and others along the supply chain with access to the containers.

In more recent years, after 9/11 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the threat expanded beyond the smuggling of drugs in shipping containers. Facing the threat of terrorists infiltrating the global supply chain and placing weapons or explosives in shipping containers, CBP used the BASC program as the foundation for the creation of the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program that we know today.

 

Twenty years later

In 1996, the World BASC Organization we know today was created with the support of U.S. Customs. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of BASC, it warms my heart to see how far we have come. The concept of a Customs-business partnership is truly now ingrained in our culture, not only in the United States but throughout the world as many Customs administrations have implemented similar programs.