DHS bill skips air cargo screens

Congress is moving toward approval of the first Homeland Security appropriations bill this week that includes money for just about everything, except for screening cargo shipped on passenger jets.

The House and Senate are expected to approve the $29.4 billion bill for fiscal 2004 that would fund protection for the nation's borders, support of state and local responders, upgrades in transportation security and development of innovative antiterrorism technologies.

But despite the fact that it is $1 billion more than President Bush requested, the spending bill includes no money to screen cargo loaded aboard passenger planes, an estimated 22 percent of all air cargo. Instead, the bill includes $55 million to develop new air screening technologies.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who pushed unsuccessfully for the air cargo screening, called it a gaping hole in aviation security.

"The ability of a terrorist to ship explosives or themselves in a box completely unscreened and uninspected is dangerous and inexcusable," Markey said.

The funding bill, which came out of a House and Senate conference committee Sept. 17, includes $125 million for inspection technologies and operations for vehicles and cargo; $61.7 million for the Container Security Initiative and $215.6 million for border and airspace security.

It also calls for $5.2 billion for the Transportation Security Administration, including $1.8 billion for passenger screening and $1.3 billion for baggage screening efforts, which includes $250 million to install explosive detection systems.

The bill also includes $918 million to develop radiological, nuclear, chemical, biological and high explosive countermeasures, and it funds the rapid development of homeland security technologies.

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