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Bush may veto 9/11 security plan over airport screener unions, contains rail security provisions

(Bloomberg News circulated the following article by William Roberts on February 27.)

WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush may veto legislation to adopt many of the remaining recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission unless Senate Democrats drop a plan to allow airport screeners to join unions, a Bush administration official said.

A provision in the security legislation now before the Senate would give government-employed airport security screeners the right to bargain collectively for union contracts and whistle-blower protections.

“That would mean we would have to negotiate with the unions whenever we have to do an emergency deployment,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters. He cited an instance last August when the agency introduced extra security measures after U.K. authorities uncovered an alleged plot to blow up airliners using explosive liquids.

Bush’s senior advisers would recommend a veto of the legislation, which authorizes more than $9.3 billion over three years in security grants to states, if it contains union organizing rights for airport screeners, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

“We vigorously disagree with those provisions in the bill,” Stanzel said.

The Senate security legislation would implement the recommendations the Sept. 11 commission made two years ago that hadn’t already been enacted. The measure includes a provision that requires $9.3 billion in grants be distributed with preference to cities that terrorists are most likely to target.

The Bush administration and Republicans defeated efforts by Democrats in 2002 to include organizing rights for TSA personnel when Congress passed initial legislation creating the Homeland Security Department.

Airline Cargo

The legislation the Senate is considering would also require all U.S. airline cargo to be screened within three years. The U.S. House voted 299-128 on Jan. 9 to approve its own legislation for inspecting 100 percent of cargo within three years.

The TSA could implement the requirement by using bomb- sniffing dogs and ensuring that only companies known to the airlines ship the cargo.

U.S. air carriers are trying to protect a $4.7 billion annual revenue stream from carrying fish, auto parts and medical supplies in jetliners’ cargo holds. Airlines have fended off proposals since Sept. 11 for physical screening of all freight.

A Requirement

The Bush administration opposes a requirement in the bill that would require the U.S. to reveal annually the total government spending on intelligence programs, a Sept. 11 commission recommendation.

Thirty-six senators signed a letter to Bush pledging to uphold his veto if the bill includes labor rights for TSA workers, said Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican.

“The provision would reverse the flexibility given to the agency to perform its critical aviation security mission,” DeMint said in a statement.

“Collective bargaining poses an unacceptable risk to the lives of the millions of Americans who rely on the TSA to provide transportation security,” said Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican. “The Senate should act immediately to remove this dangerous provision.”

Driver’s Licenses

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the Homeland Security Committee’s senior Republican, said she wants to delay a May 2008 deadline in the bill for states to meet tighter federal security standards for issuing driver’s licenses.

Some states are struggling to find the money to buy new equipment and set up procedures to comply with the stricter identification standards, Collins said.

Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, plans to offer an amendment for screening all U.S.-bound cargo on ships while still in foreign ports, a provision that’s in the House version of the legislation.

Under the measure, the Commerce Department would get more control over the $1 billion for communications following criticism of the Homeland Security Department’s management of the funds.

TSA would assess U.S. railroad security risks and recommend ways to fix the vulnerabilities. The government would be encouraged to spend an additional $1 billion over four years to improve security at railroad bridges, tunnels, and switching areas. Another $85 million would be set aside for truck and pipeline security upgrades.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

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