WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- A U.S. Senate committee plans to mark up broad homeland security legislation implementing Sept. 11 reforms next week, a companion bill to the one already passed by the House, but it is unlikely to include some of the House's more radical measures.
Observers point to the fact that the House bill, passed by the newly elected Democratic majority in their first flush of enthusiasm and designated H.R. 1, contains a number of provisions that would likely encounter stiff resistance in the Senate, where a single lawmaker can often prevent a bill advancing.
And opponents of some of the bill's provisions were handed a powerful new argument by a Congressional Budget Office cost estimate late last week that put the tab for the law at more than $21 billion over five years.
"Senators are standing back and saying 'These are difficult policy issues,'" Andrew Howell told United Press International. Howell, who just quit as a vice-president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to join a new lobbying firm, follows homeland security legislation closely on the Hill.
Several other observers also told UPI that they thought it likely "cooler heads will prevail in the Senate," in the words of Andrew Thomas, an aviation security consultant and professor of international business studies at the University of Akron, Ohio, 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 prior to loading at overseas ports. A similar provision was considered and rejected by the Senate during its debate of the SAFE Ports Act last year.
"Congress has legislated twice on this (port and container security) question since Sept. 11," Allen Thompson, who is vice-president for global supply chain security for the Retail Industry Leaders' Association, told UPI.
"There was strong bipartisan support" for the SAFE Port Act, he said, signed just last October, which mandated scanning of all U.S. bound containers "as soon as possible" and authorized pilot projects to be rolled out at a handful of foreign ports to assess the feasibility of the 100 percent scanning goal.
"Let's see what comes out of the pilot programs before any decisions are made about (changing) the policy," said Thompson. "Let's see how the SAFE Port Act works before we feel we have to take such a drastic step" as mandating a deadline for 100 percent container scanning.
"I don't think there will be (container scanning mandates) in the Senate bill," said Howell.
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."
Leslie Philips, spokeswoman for Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman (A Democrat who turned independent, said the committee hoped to mark up the Senate version of the legislation next week.
She declined comment on the specifics of the bill being drafted but said Lieberman, from Connecticut, "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 Sept. 11 Commission recommendations."
The commission's 2005 report did not recommend mandating deadlines for container scanning, and while it did call for the wider use of new technology for screening freight it noted that "widespread deployment is still years away."
The Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, put the cost to the government of the 100 percent mandate at only $260 million over five years, mostly to hire, equip, train and support an additional 300-400 Departmenet of Homeland Security employees to review container scans and enforce the laws requirements at foreign ports.
The CBO said the up-front cost to acquire and deploy the necessary equipment for scanning and sealing containers in most big ports worldwide would -- $1.5 billion -- would be "borne by foreign ports in order to maintain trade with the United States."
But it said its estimates were based on several assumptions and some experts questioned whether it was possible to get a real estimate of the cost to the private sector of such far-reaching proposals.
"There is not a real operational way to assess what the true cost would be," said Howell, because the measures were so novel.
By far the most expensive single group of measures, according to the CBO, was aviation security, estimated at $23.8 billion.
But $20.3 billion of that is just the continuing cost of existing aviation security measures -- the additional $3.5 billion is the cost of another of H.R. 1's 100 percent scanning mandates: this one for all air cargo carried on commercial passenger flights to be physically screened like carry-on baggage is within three years.
Although veteran Democratic firebrand Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has championed the language in the House, arguing that unscreened cargo on such flights is an unguarded back door to the nation's aviation security system, in the Senate, the Commerce Science and Transportation Committee has jurisdiction.
At a recent hearing of that committee, Edmond 'Kip' Hawley, head of the Transportation Security Administration, was asked about the 100 percent goal.
"We don't disagree that screening air cargo on passenger planes is very important," he said. "It's really a question of operationally what is the best security value for the investment.
"The concern I have is that a 100 percent requirement in a statute will focus the effort on getting the 100 percent done, which makes it more of a logistics issue than a security issue," he added. "And it would divert resources that we may prefer to be able to move around on an unpredictable basis."
"The concern is," he concluded, "that for a very small incremental benefit of security, it would take away resources that we could more productively apply elsewhere."
Howell said the Senate bill would probably include aviation security measures, but not the "unrealistic and extraordinary expensive" ones in the House version on air cargo.