Sensible Security Fixes

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Monday, March 5, 2007

ALONG-DORMANT battle over the Department of Homeland Security's labor practices resurfaced last week in the Senate. The White House threatened to veto a generally sensible homeland security bill that was based on the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations, because of a provision that would allow Transportation Security Administration employees to engage in collective bargaining. In the Senate, 36 Republicans are promising to sustain that decision by President Bush.

He shouldn't veto, and they shouldn't vote to sustain if he does. Other employees of the Department of Homeland Security enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining without endangering Americans' safety. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who sponsored the bill, points out that TSA employees have unnecessarily limited access to redress, which contributes to the TSA's high turnover, high absenteeism and low morale. Meanwhile, there's a lot more to the bill than this one provision.

The legislation, for example, proposes to distribute federal anti-terrorism grants to cities and states according to a formula that the bill's backers say will put the most money into regions that face the most risk. It would thus direct more money to high-risk cities such as Washington than would the House version. That's good but not good enough; the bill still requires that every state receive some money, regardless of risk. We hope the Senate reconsiders this wasteful formulation in coming days, especially after the farcical example of last year's Homeland Security grant-giving -- marked by huge declines in funding for New York City and Washington and huge increases for cities such as Louisville.

On the other hand, the bill contains a range of solid proposals -- from grants to ease communication among first responders to measures that would promote intelligence sharing. The bill's sponsors also exercised good sense when they excluded a requirement that all sea cargo containers be scanned for harmful materials before entering the United States. This bad idea made its way into the House version of the bill, its supporters claiming that it reflected the will of the Sept. 11 commission when in fact the panel supported no such measure. Requiring 100 percent scanning would be likely to disrupt trade and inflict massive costs on businesses and consumers with meager benefits. A pilot program testing the mere feasibility of scanning all containers is far from complete. If 100 percent scanning stays out of the legislation and Congress sends the money to areas that really need it, President Bush ought to forgo the politics and sign the bill.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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