- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

A U.S. Senate committee plans to mark up broad homeland security legislation implementing the September 11 commission’s proposals next week, a companion bill to the one already passed by the House, but it is not likely to include some of the House’s more drastic measures.

Industry officials said the bill passed by the House, in the Democratic majority’s first flush of enthusiasm, contains several provisions that are likely to encounter stiff resistance in the Senate, where a single lawmaker often can prevent a bill’s advancement.

Opponents of some of the provisions were handed a powerful new argument by a Congressional Budget Office cost estimate last week that put the tab at more than $21 billion over five years.

“Senators are standing back and saying, ‘These are difficult policy issues,’ ” said Andrew Howell, who just resigned as a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to join a new lobbying firm and follows homeland security legislation.

Andrew Thomas, an aviation security consultant, said he expects that “cooler heads will prevail in the Senate” on at least two issues: freight container and air cargo scanning. The House-passed bill, for instance, requires that within five years 100 percent of U.S.-bound freight containers be scanned before loading at overseas ports. The Senate rejected a similar provision last year during its debate of the SAFE Port Act.

“Congress has legislated twice on this [port and container security] question since September 11,” said Allen Thompson, vice president for global supply chain security for the Retail Industry Leaders’ Association.

“There was strong bipartisan support” for the SAFE Port Act signed in October, he said. The act mandates scanning of all U.S.-bound containers “as soon as possible” and authorizes pilot projects to be rolled out at a few foreign ports to assess the feasibility of the 100 percent scanning goal.

Leslie Philips, a spokeswoman for Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, declined to comment on the specifics of the draft bill, which she said the panel hopes to mark up next week.

She said Mr. Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, “believes that the pilot programs contained in the SAFE Port Act should be given a chance” to work and “has made it clear that the legislation will hew closely to the September 11 commission recommendations.”

The 2005 report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States did not recommend deadlines for container scanning. Although it did call for the wider use of new technology for screening freight, it noted that “widespread deployment is still years away.”

“I don’t think there will be [container-scanning mandates] in the Senate bill,” Mr. Howell said.

The White House Office of Management and Budget said in a formal Statement of Administration Policy that the five-year, 100 percent mandate was “neither executable nor feasible.”

The Congressional Budget Office put the cost to the government of the 100 percent mandate at $260 million over five years, mostly to hire, equip, train and support an additional 300 to 400 Department of Homeland Security employees to review container scans and enforce the laws’ requirements at foreign ports.

But the CBO also said that the $1.5 billion upfront cost to acquire and deploy the necessary equipment for scanning and sealing containers in most big ports worldwide would be “borne by foreign ports in order to maintain trade with the United States.”

The office said its estimates were based on several assumptions. Some analysts questioned whether it was possible to get a real estimate of the cost to the private sector of such far-reaching proposals.

By far the most expensive single group of measures, according to the CBO, was aviation security, estimated at $23.8 billion, of which $3.5 billion is the cost of requiring that 100 percent of all cargo on commercial passenger flights be physically screened, as carry-on baggage is, within three years.

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