October 21, 2002
Lawmakers try for slice of security pie
Politicians seek edge for anti-terrorism technology made in their home districts.
By Toby Eckert
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON — As the federal government gears up to spend billions of dollars on technology to combat terrorism, some lawmakers are trying to make sure that agencies consider equipment made in their states.
They have added language to bills that directs the agencies to study wares ranging from blast-resistant airline luggage containers made in California to high-tech IDs made in Kentucky.
While lawmakers traditionally go to bat for home-state interests, the practice underlines how eager companies with new technology are to attract homeland-security business.
“We have done numerous presentations to people in both houses” of Congress, said James Yoh, president and chief executive officer of Galaxy Scientific Corp., a New Jersey-based company that has developed a blast-resistant container for airline luggage and cargo.
Telair International, which makes a different type of blast-resistant
container in the Rancho Dominguez area near Carson, also has touted its product to members of Congress.
Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Carson, added language to an aviation bill directing the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration to report to Congress on the container technology, “options available to pay for” it and recommendations for its use on passenger aircraft.
California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein supported similar language in a Senate aviation bill.
Airlines have been reluctant to embrace the blast-resistant containers because they cost and weigh more than standard containers.
“This study will provide the answers to some key questions and allow members of Congress to make an informed decision on whether to mandate airlines to use these blast-resistant luggage containers,” Feinstein said.
The FAA already is evaluating the containers. But officials said Telair may have a leg up at this point if airlines are required to use them because its product has received an “airworthiness” designation from the FAA.
“Even though it’s not required, the airlines are more than likely going to demand that that criteria be met,” a Transportation Department official said.
Remote tracking proposal
Lawmakers also want the TSA and a trucking safety agency to evaluate systems that can remotely track and disable trucks carrying hazardous cargo that may be targeted by terrorist hijackers. A House transportation spending bill contains $2 million for a pilot program using the technology, which is made by companies including San Diego-based Qualcomm and Michigan-based Delphi Corp.
The proposal was first reported by Congressional Quarterly.
Qualcomm demonstrated its technology to members of Congress and Transportation Department officials in June.
Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Escondido, “thinks it’s an amazing technology that can help with homeland security,” said spokeswoman Harmony Allen. Cunningham is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Many trucking companies already use Qualcomm’s OmniTRACS system, though the remote disabling technology is not being used commercially in the United States, said Marc Sands, vice president and counsel for the company’s wireless business solutions division.
“Until this year, there really hadn’t been a demand. Now there is a
great interest in this,” he said.
The interest some lawmakers are showing in particular technologies has ruffled some corporate feathers. Language accompanying the House transportation spending bill, for instance, “strongly encourages” the TSA to include optical laser card technology as it develops and tests a new transportation worker identification card.
The TSA plans to test the IDs at Los Angeles International Airport and the Port of Long Beach.
The language says the optical laser technology has the “greatest
capacity for including biometric information,” like fingerprints, on the IDs. It was inserted by Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., whose district includes a company that specializes in the technology, according to Congressional Quarterly .
Competitors raise objections
The wording has drawn criticism from makers of a competing technology.
“I really just question the wisdom behind why that particular language was entered when there’s been a tremendous amount of research already into all of the technologies out there,” said Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance, an industry group. “Based on everything we understand TSA is looking for, we really believe smart card technology answers those requirements.”
A representative for Rogers, who chairs the transportation
appropriations subcommittee, could not be reached for comment.
Officials at the TSA say they are not worried about being overwhelmed or tied down by congressional directives to study various technologies.
“There are a lot of ideas that are proposed. Some fraction of those
become law. That’s what the process is for — it sorts some of these
ideas out,” said TSA spokesman Robert L. Johnson. “Everyone has the same objective and it’s a good one, and that’s to make our transportation system as safe as possible.”
But government watchdogs say they are keeping an eye on the issue.
“This is really not a new phenomenon in the federal government. Members of Congress tend to want to send money to their districts,” said David Williams, vice president of Citizens Against Government Waste. “It may help national security, but it still should be a competitive process.”