January 9, 2007
Democrat proposals to require 100 percent screening of air and seaborne cargo will cost tens of billions of dollars in the coming years, and the only way to pay for it will be to dramatically raise fees and taxes, Congressman Jerry Lewis said Tuesday.
Many of the provisions in the so-called “911 Commission Recommendations Act” are very worthwhile, but Democrats have given no indication of how to pay for the dramatically increased costs, said Lewis, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee. Without new appropriations there is little chance these programs, policy directives, and performance objectives will see the light of day.
“This bill is a clear indication that the majority’s pledge to offset any new increases in spending is just an empty sound bite,” Lewis said. “There is no way we can afford these programs without raising fees or taxes – and putting the brakes on our nation’s economy in the process.”
Under Republican control, Congress has in fact made substantial progress in reducing security threats to our nation without throwing money at the problem, Lewis said.
- The House Appropriations Committee in 2004 called for the tripling of the percentage of cargo screened on passenger aircraft, required quarterly updates on meeting this goal, and directed the development of standards and technology to reduce manpower requirements. The committee supported Indirect Air Carrier and Known Shipper programs that screen individuals and companies using passenger aircraft to ship cargo.
- Republicans have made a top priority of targeting all high-risk cargo inbound for the United States. The appropriations committee supported expansion of the Container Security Initiative, which places U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at 58 of the world’s largest ports, covering approximately 85 percent of the U.S.-bound shipping containers. Last year, the 109th Congress passed the SAFE Port Act, which, among other things, created pilot programs, each designed to test the possibility and viability of achieving 100 percent screening overseas. Through the Secure Freight Initiative, the Administration has set up 9 of these pilot programs.
The legislation proposed by Democrats – without any congressional hearings on how much it will cost or how effective it will be – would carve out $250 million from airline passenger ticket fees to pay for research, development and deployment of Explosive Detection System checkpoint technology. Because there is no guarantee this amount can be covered by current collections, it will likely require a direct appropriation, Lewis said.
The bill requires the inspection of 100 percent of the over 11 million U.S.-bound seaborne cargo containers within 5 years. While DHS currently inspects 100% of high-risk cargo, estimates to physically inspect 100 percent of sea-bound cargo, including those containers shipped by trusted partners, are in the tens of billions, Lewis said.
Estimates to physically inspect all cargo on passenger planes for a single year exceed $500 million and may require up to an additional 8,000 screeners at a cost of $400 million per year. And on top of these annual costs, there is an upfront investment of over a billion dollars for equipment installation and facility modifications. Yet this bill casually calls for 100 percent inspection by the end of FY 2009 – a timeline that is virtually impossible to meet and could result in skyrocketing costs, Lewis said.