Monday, November 22, 2010

S 3954 Introduced

Last week Sen. Casey (D, PA) introduced S 3954, the Air Cargo Security Act. While there are slight differences in wording between this bill and HR 6410, a bill introduced earlier last week by Rep. Markey (D, MA), that they should probably be considered companion bills; bills introduced into both the Senate and House that allow for nearly simultaneous committee consideration in both bodies.

Companion Bills

The introduction of a companion bill typically indicates that the original bill’s author seriously wants the bill to be considered and passed. The identification of a like minded legislator in the other body and the negotiation of the acceptance of the provisions included in the original bill require enough political energy that it demonstrates an increased level of political intent.

Most bills introduced in Congress never receive any political consideration beyond their original introduction. Most bills exist to be used as a reference during political campaigns to prove the author’s support for a particular political cause.

Basically Flawed Legislation

Ignoring for the moment the basic concept that forms the basis for these two bills, that all air cargo needs to be screened for explosive devices, these bills are basically flawed. As I explained in the blog on HR 6410, the timelines that are required in the bill to develop programs and processes, establish rules and regulations and to hire necessary inspectors and regulators are patently impossible to achieve.

Setting patently unachievable deadlines in a piece of legislation ensures that there will be objections to that bill from both the federal agencies involved and the potentially regulated community. Giving such opponents clearly identifiable and easily understood attack points makes it a near certainty that the opposition will succeed in killing the legislation.

Flawed Security Concept

It is a basic premise of security operations that it is not possible to prevent all security threats. First off, any security measure that can be defined will have flaws that can be exploited. Second, all security measures have a cost associated with them and the more complete the security measure is the more expensive it will be. The only way to completely prevent terrorists from using airplanes as a target is to shut down all airplanes.

The costs of security are always passed along to consumers either in the form of higher prices, if industry makes the security outlays or higher taxes if government pays for the security measures. The rules embodied in these two bills ensure that consumers would be hit from both sides as the air cargo shipping costs would increase and the TSA bureaucracy would have to increase.

There needs to be a serious discussion of the costs associated with the security measures versus the cost associated with the threat. News reports this weekend highlighted the claims of Al Qaeda that the costs of the recent ‘toner’ attacks were in the neighborhood of $4,200. What amount of money are we willing to spend to prevent these attacks? And will we be willing to spend a similar amount to prevent the next low cost attacks that Al Qaeda or other terror groups come up with?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that reasonable security measures are required for high-risk targets. The higher the risk or potential consequence the higher the justifiable security costs. But, we need to have an explicit discussion of how we determine what costs are justifiable and which are just too high to pay.

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