House Passes Bill to Force U.S. Postal Service to Share Data with Customs and Better Detect Illegal Opioids at the Border

Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives, by a margin of 353-32, passed the Securing the International Mail Against Opioids Act (H.R. 5788), which would assist the United States Postal Service (USPS) in reducing its role in the nation’s opioid crisis and “help stem the flow of illicit, synthetic opioids from foreign manufacturers through the mail system.”

The Bill would bring USPS into compliance with more stringent regulations currently enforced on private shipping companies. H.R. 5788 would require USPS to receive advanced electronic data (AED), which includes: where the package is from, where it’s going, and what’s inside, on 100 percent of international packages before they reach the United States by 2021. USPS would then be required to transmit this AED to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

However, by the end of 2018, the Bill mandates that USPS is required to pass on data from 70 percent of international packages. Currently, USPS only collects AED on 40 percent of inbound international packages. Beginning in 2021, the agency will face civil penalties if it allows international shipments without AED to enter the country. USPS says it will charge a $1 fee to cover the costs of this additional customs processing. USPS will also be required to present their findings on AED collection to Congress.

This Bill would have implications for other U.S. government agencies. For example, the State Department would be required to “negotiate international agreements that require foreign countries to provide AED before sending packages.” USPS and CBP, along with other agencies, would have to collaborate to “develop new technology to help customs officers better detect illicit drugs in the mail” environment.

CBP currently identifies high-risk packages, and those potentially containing illegal drugs, on a “more manual” basis. CBP asks USPS to segregate mail originating from “countries of interest and then begins a manpower-intensive process, including hand-picking out questionable packages and putting them through x-rays and other technologies.” Additionally, CBP and its frontline personnel rely on “canine teams to find packages containing illicit drugs.” Moreover, these frontline personnel are not just looking for illegal opioids, but “violative content that runs the full gambit of the CBP mission.”

Proponents tout H.R. 5788 as common-sense legislation that will eliminate existing loopholes being exploited in the international mail system. The Bill is supported by the White House which stated that it would “improve the security of the international mail system by those who would use it to smuggle dangerous opioids and other illicit substances into the United States.” However, critics have said “that many countries do not have the capacity to provide the AED the bill would require, and its passage would effectively shut off the shipping of packages to the United States from those areas.” The Bill now heads to the Senate, where it has bipartisan backing.