Congress needs fresh approach to Real ID act

By Freedom Newspapers

The homeland security and counterterrorism legislation currently being debated in the U.S. Senate is being held up by two marginally related issues: efforts to unionize airport screeners and implementation of Real ID.

It wouldn’t necessarily be a tragedy if the legislation were held up forever, given that the bill is more pork than security. But if members of Congress really want to get those federal dollars out to state and local governments in time to take credit for their largesse with taxpayers’ money, they would do well to forget about trying to unionize airport screeners and go back to the drawing board on the Real ID proposal.

The basic bill strikes us as a typical federal government approach: Spread a lot of money around and be prepared to amass more power whatever happens. In this instance, the politicos can say if there is no terrorist strike on U.S. soil, the credit goes to their wise planning. But, if a terrorist strike happens they simply lament that their efforts were underfunded so next time spending needs to be doubled or tripled. Either way the political class at all levels prospers.

Concretely, this bill will hand out $3.3 billion to state and local governments to upgrade emergency communications and another $3.1 billion in grants to states. The communications money might prove useful in the event of hurricanes or earthquakes, but it’s pretty safe to predict this bill will have no discernible impact on the likelihood of another attack.

So maybe it’s not bad if concerns about unionization and Real ID sidetrack the whole mess. The Democrats, eager to pay off their debts to Big Labor, want federal airport “security” screeners to be able to join a union with bargaining power. President Bush has threatened a veto if such a provision is included.

The dispute highlights the fact that making airport screeners federal employees was a big mistake. As they become more entrenched they will become less and less accountable to the public.

Real ID, the law that requires states to comply with new federal standards and to tap into a (still uncreated) federal security database when issuing driver’s licenses, came up as a point of contention because of an amendment to give the states 19 months beyond the original May 2008 deadline to conform to the new federal dictates.

Many states are rebelling over Real ID. They’re concerned about the $11 billion it’s estimated to cost — another unfunded mandate from Washington — and the likelihood that a uniform national system will be more vulnerable to mischief than 52 different state systems.

Instead of extending the Real ID deadline, however, Congress would do better to repeal the Real ID act and approach the issue afresh. The costs of the law as enacted far exceed the benefits.