For all the political controversy surrounding the U.S. Postal Service in recent months, there is one issue on which Democrats, Republicans and Independents should be able to come together: the need to better track packages from overseas so that opioids are intercepted, rather than delivered.
On October 24, 2018, President Trump signed the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention, or STOP, Act. A centerpiece of the law is a provision to require advanced electronic data (AED) on all incoming packages by January 1, 2021.
AED is easily accessible information about the shipper, recipient, and content of cross-border packages. The Postal Service receives this information from foreign posts and forwards it to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) so that suspicious packages can be identified and seized when they arrive in the United States.
The mandatory AED provision had broad and strong support across the political spectrum. A bipartisan January 2018 U.S. Senate report documented that sending opioids into the U.S. from China in packages through the U.S. Postal Service, without AED, was the preferred shipment method of drug cartels.
Foreign postal services will not be able to meet the January deadline. A September 30 report from the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Postal Service found, “While it is possible that a few posts could include AED on 100 percent of their packages by January 2021, the vast majority will be unable to do so.”
Come January, the Postal Service should refuse to deliver all packages that do not have AED as well as packages where the AED is incomplete or indecipherable. President Trump, Joe Biden, and all members of Congress should back up the Postal Service on this decision.
With AED, the Postal Service and U.S. law enforcement can use the powerful tool of data analytics to identify suspicious packages and have them seized and searched before delivery. And with data analytics’ sophistication growing in leaps and bounds, it will clearly lead to greater seizures of opioids and deter traffickers from making so many shipments.
AED technology has been widely used since the 1990s. In fact, it has been required on private carriers’ shipments into the United States since 2002.
It is particularly disconcerting that China still does not have AED on all outbound postal shipments to the U.S. While compliance has increased in recent years, the official numbers are redacted in the September 30 OIG report, though the Postal Service said 85 percent of packages from China had AED in May 2019.
For perspective, though, the Postal Service received 498 million international packages in calendar year 2017 according to the January 2018 U.S. Senate report. Thus, even a small percent of in-bound international packages without AED presents significant risks.
The September 30 report says, “The Department of State confirmed to the OIG that UPU regulations do not restrict enforcement of the STOP Act.” As such, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should remind the Chinese of this and inform them that packages without AED will not be delivered as of January 1.
China is a modern country, and its authoritarian government could immediately order its postal service, China Post, to require AED on all outbound packages to the United States.
The Postal Service needs other help on this issue. CBP was supposed to issue regulations in October 2019 and has not done so. This bureaucratic snafu is quite disappointing.
Internationally, the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the United Nations-affiliated organization that governs international postal shipments, is moving in the direction of tougher AED standards, albeit quite slowly. The U.S. State Department should continue to strongly back the Postal Service as it works to accelerate these changes at the UPU, providing the strength and leverage that the Postal Service needs.
Curtailing opioids from entering the U.S. by mail in 2021 is still achievable. The Postal Service should stand up to China to stop such deliveries and we should all have its back.
About the Author: Paul Steidler is a Senior Fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia.
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