July 14, 2008 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense
On July 15, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection will examine air cargo security and decide whether the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is effectively implementing the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. A particularly contentious element of the act-a 100 percent screening mandate-remains a sore marring this legislation. Subsequently, Congress should use tomorrow's hearing to reexamine this deeply flawed measure.
Moving in the Wrong Direction
Several measures of the act are directed at the aviation sector. For instance, the act demands-within three years-screening of 100 percent of the cargo transported on passenger aircraft. Three years is an incredibly short time considering that current screening is relatively minimal and not based on any pre-set screening level. At least 7,500 pounds of air cargo are transported on passenger planes daily.
The idea that the U.S. can prevent all threats to cargo security by instituting a 100 percent screening mechanism is unrealistic. Members of Congress are using the 100 percent screening mandate to score cheap political points by framing themselves as champions of homeland security. Yet, by championing an unreachable mandate, legislators are providing the public with a false sense of security. Indeed, an argument could be made that, by directing so many resources toward an impossible goal, certain members of Congress are extracting political gain at the expense of national security.
Regardless, DHS has-at least on paper-made some headway toward satisfying the mandate, such as the development of a strategic plan. However, such superficial progress still does not prove that 100 percent screening can succeed on a tangible basis. Thousands upon thousands of pounds of cargo moves through the skies everyday; to demand 100 percent screening of such volume is short-sighted and guarantees DHS's failure.
Real Reform for the Real World
Instead of reiterating the flawed policies of the 9/11 bill, tomorrow's hearing should be used to change the act to include measures that would:
Congress will do America a favor if it uses tomorrow's hearing as an opportunity to reexamine-rather than reiterate-current policies. Putting politics over security provides political boons to members of Congress who seek to monopolize on the DHS failure. The safety of the skies, however, is dependent upon sound policies and realistic expectations.
Jena Baker McNeill is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.