The roughest aspect of C-TPAT compliance may be committing the resources needed to maintain certification over the long haul.
“C-TPAT certification will give us quicker clearance at the Mexican and Canadian borders, while allowing us to assist our customers in securing their products as they move through the supply chain,” says Thomas Lilly, president & CEO of Oakbrook, IL-based USF Logistics.
“USF Logistics was security compliant from day one; our internal security measures matched or exceeded the minimum C-TPAT standards established by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) ,” says Michael Harthcock, former director of security for USF logistics and now director of security for Wichita, KS-based USF Dugan, one of USF's regional LTL operations.
“Our biggest issue was getting the transportation providers we contract with to get C-TPAT-certified. There lies the real problem,” he says. “Because for us to be fully C-TPAT-certified, our providers must be as well. That means getting even a small local cartage company certified , and such a company doesn't have access to the resources we do as a large corporation.”
Harthcock notes that C-TPAT certification can be expensive on many levels. USF Logistics invested in remote camera systems, electronic gates, and employs security guards at many of its warehouse facilities.
“There are consultants out there charging $3,000 to $4,000 to help logistics and transportation providers get certified,” Harthcock explains. “We acted as a ‘mentor’ for many of our providers, so they could access our knowledge base and help get them through the maze of rules regarding CTPAT.”
Consider these pointers drawn from USF Logistics' C-TPAT experience:
Be in it for the long run. The biggest issue Harthcock sees with C-TPAT is many see it as a one-time deal. Nope. “It's an ongoing and evolving program,” he says. “Once you are certified and validated, you will be audited at some point to keep your certification. Don't go down the C-TPAT road if you're not willing to put forth a sustained and long-term effort.”
The process takes patience. The final certification document Harthcock submitted for USF Logistics topped 30 pages. And it was six months before CBP granted certification. “Customs is so backed up right now with C-TPAT certification requests that it takes a minimum of five months to get clearance right now,” he says.
It costs money. The security efforts necessary to meet C-TPAT standards don't come cheap. “For companies with multiple warehouses, truck yards, etc., the cost of remote camera systems, driver training, electronic fences and guards can be very costly,” he says. “It is about how seriously you take the security issue.”
Get ahead of the curve. “C-TPAT is voluntary now but I wouldn't be shocked to see it become mandatory in two to three years,” Harthcock says. “I also wouldn't be surprised to see CBP boost C-TPAT's minimum requirements over the next 12 to 14 months.“
While the costs, paperwork, and wait time for gaining C-TPAT certification may seem huge at the start, Harthcock advises keeping the benefits in mind, too.
“Most of our customers are now demanding C-TPAT certification for us to move their freight - especially shippers of high-value goods,” he says. “Having C-TPAT increasingly means the difference between getting business or not.
“Remember, too, C-TPAT is necessary for a carrier to qualify for participation in FAST programs at the border with Canada and Mexico. Getting access to FAST means less paperwork and faster border transit via dedicated lanes.”