It comes as no surprise to those following the political debate inside Washington, D.C. as to the two different and prevalent philosophies of how to allocate the nation’s homeland security resources. One school of thought (mostly backed by the current Administration and Republicans) is to use a risk-based strategy to target suspect cargo, people or containers for a more thorough screening. The alternative approach (mostly backed by Democrats) is to screen (or scan) 100% of all cargo, people, and containers entering this country.
We see this debate playing itself out between DHS and Democrats on the Hill in the areas of employee screening at our nation’s airports, the screening of air cargo, and the screening of shipping containers coming from overseas. In all these instances, Democrats have passed legislative mandates requiring DHS to implement the costly solution of 100% screening. DHS has been correct to push back, and they should do so more forcefully.
Does this mean that those who are against the 100 % screening mandate are somehow for less security or that they don’t understand the terrorist threat? I would answer an emphatic – NO. It’s more complex than that. As Secretary Chertoff has mentioned repeatedly, it’s about trade-offs. In a society as open and free as ours, we cannot screen 100 % of everything we think terrorists could possibly use to do bad things to us. Instead, we have to focus our limited resources on the areas that pose the greatest risk.
It’s been said that Congress is reactionary and responds most swiftly to events in the news. Whether it’s two baggage handlers using their airline identification to smuggle guns and drugs aboard a flight from Orlando to San Juan, a 2002 ABC news team that smuggled a cylinder of depleted uranium metal in a shipping container from Jarkarta, or the random news reports of stowaways found aboard commercial aircraft, one can certainly point to clear incidents in which Congress has mandated burdensome security requirements for DHS to implement.
We need to stop playing politics with these important issues. If Congress is serious about their 100 % screening mandates then they need to provide the resources (money) for DHS to implement. It’s plain and simple. In many of these instances, DHS is not provided the necessary resources and is left open to unfair criticism as a result.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Congress backed up their mandates with the necessary resources. Congress mandated an aggressive timeline for the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to screen 100 % of all checked baggage on commercial aircraft. Since the airlines were not screening any checked baggage on 9-10-01, this was a tremendous challenge. However, Congress provided the funding necessary for TSA to carry out this specific mandate. It wasn’t cheap, but the overwhelming sentiment in Congress (and the country) was that this was too large a loophole to ignore any longer. This requirement did not require private industry to buy the security equipment (as is the case with the air cargo and employee screening mandates); nor did this requirement require foreign governments and foreign airlines to revamp their airline screening regime (although some did on their own) for fear they could not fly to the U.S (as is the case with the container scanning mandate).
Bottom line is that there is a stark difference between homeland security policy rhetoric and the actual implementation of programs that prevent and deter terrorists from carrying out their intent on our country.