Security Reality

Security Reality

The cover of the in-house journal of one transportation group headlined its recent recitation of forthcoming security regulation "The New Reality." The signs are growing more rapidly than cherry blossoms in springtime that transportation security is going to be entirely different from what carriers and shippers have been used to.

The strongest sign of that in Congress came last week with the Senate passed, by 60-38, a sweeping measure with the unwieldy name of The Improving America's Security by Implementing Unfinished Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. The title may lack the rhetorical flourish of No Child Left Behind, but the detail and the reach certainly leave few aspects of the transportation world behind.

In strict terms, the bill wraps together provisions in separate measures covering aviation security along with surface transport and rail security, including directives that have been floating around Capitol Hill since the Democrats took majority control of Congress in January.

The final details of the provisions will have to be worked out with a similar bill that had already passed the House, of course, but what won't change is the new security reality for just about any mode that carries freight.

That reality isn't waiting for the House and Senate to reconcile their separate bills nor for the Congress and the White House to figure out where the president stashed his veto pen. The new reality was evident, for instance, in the way the Transportation Security Administration implemented new air cargo security directives this month with, near as we can tell, just about a week's notice on the details of those directives.

TSA officials wouldn't talk about the details and neither would aviation industry officials. But a series of messages sent to air freight shippers suggest several new operating changes on the way freight is delivered and handled.

That's certainly the goal of supporters of the Senate plan. Like the House bill, it would require airlines carrying cargo on passenger flights to build systems to screen the cargo within three years.

The surface transportation provisions may have more of an impact because they would set new directives in areas that until now have been left largely outside congressional direction. The Senate bill incorporates the Surface Transportation and Rail Security Act of 2007, setting up a series of new programs that would include rail security assessments, grants and specific timelines for surface modes.

Provisions requiring 100 percent scanning of containers coming from most large foreign ports and the rerouting  of rail hazardous materials shipments around cities were stripped from the bill - a victory for importers and railroads.

President Bush has threatened to veto the measure if it includes a Senate provision allowing TSA workers to join a union. But our betting is that anyone who thinks that might happen isn't paying attention to reality.