- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2007

Enacting the homeland security improvements recommended by the 9/11 commission will cost at least $21 billion over the next five years, according to a report yesterday by the Congressional Budget Office.

The CBO said a bill to carry out the recommendations, which passed the House last month, would also raise airline passenger fees by nearly $1.3 billion between 2008 and 2011, with the money going to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to improve security at the nation’s airports.

House Democrats proposed the bill as part of their “100 hours” agenda. It would:

• Require the federal government to screen the contents of all cargo transported aboard passenger aircraft.

• Prohibit cargo shipping containers from entering the United States unless they have been sealed and scanned with imaging and radiation-detection equipment.

• Authorize grants to improve communications systems among first responders.

• Authorize appropriations for international broadcasting activities and assistance to Arab and predominantly Muslim countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

• Aim to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by creating a White House office to coordinate a strategy for preventing WMD proliferation and an advisory commission to survey current nonproliferation efforts and recommend improvements.

The report was delivered to Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who introduced the legislation. He said the 9/11 commissioners made “41 valuable recommendations on how to prevent” future terrorist attacks, but not all of them were completed.

“As a result, the American people remain at risk and our nation remains unprepared for a major emergency,” he said.

But Rep. Peter T. King of New York, the committee’s ranking Republican, said the bill was “rushed to the floor without the Democratic leadership giving us any indication of its massive cost — and now we know why.”

“I think this $21 billion estimate makes it clear that the bill actually contradicts 9/11 commission recommendations, which called for a risk-based allocation of homeland security resources,” Mr. King said. “Had we known this before the bill was brought to the floor, it would have been a different story.”

Under the bill, the Department of Homeland Security would set the standards for scanning equipment and for container seals that could detect breaches. The bill’s new requirements would become effective within three years for containers from countries with large ports and within five years for those with smaller operations.

President Bush opposes the House bill, arguing it undermines many of the administration’s own post-September 11 steps and it is impossible to scan 100 percent of all incoming cargo.

The SAFE Ports Act, enacted in October 2006, requires Homeland Security to ensure that all containers are scanned before they arrive in the United States, although it sets no deadline for the department to put the program into operation. Department officials have described the 100 percent requirement as “unrealistic.”

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