NEWS

Travel Industry Praises 2009 Homeland Security Appropriations

By Matthew Harwood

The new $40 billion law that will fund the Department of Homeland Security through fiscal year 2009 won rare praise from the U.S. travel industry, which has long blamed post-9-11 security policy for the loss of foreign tourism dollars.

The law, signed by Bush Tuesday, provides $10 million for DHS's Global Entry Program, intended to expedite entry for low-risk travelers.

“NBTA congratulates Congress for passing this vital funding measure,” said the National Business Travel Association's  Executive Director and COO Bill Connors.

President Bush did not like the bill—which bundled together appropriations for defense, homeland security, and veterans affairs—because it was more expensive than he wanted, reports the Associated Press, but its passage was necessary to keep the government funded into 2009.

The spending law increases funding for the Department of Homeland Security 6 percent more than the president had originally requested. According to CQ.com (subscription only):

The measure would provide $4.2 billion for state and local grants from the department, almost double the administration’s request. The funds include grants that are distributed to large cities and all states, and grants that can be used on port and transit security.

On top of funding the Global Entry program, the law gives Customs and Border Protection $8.75 million to hire 173 additioanl agents to speed up passenger screening, and $300 million to fund the US-VISIT program, which seeks to verify the identity of foreign travelers entering and leaving the country.

According to the Travel Industry Association (TIA), reports United Press International, security requirements implemented after 9-11 have led to a drop in tourism to the United States, costing $140 billion in foreign spending and another $23 billion in tax revenue.

Global Entry will help the travel industry by making it faster and easier for pre-approved, low-risk international travelers to enter the country by having them register and provide background information to the United States in advance of their trip.

"With the enactment of this legislation, Congress and President Bush have strengthened airport security and acted to improve the travel experience for millions of overseas visitors to the United States," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of TIA.

Signaling its unpopularity among Congress, foreign governments, and the travel industry, US-VISIT received 23 percent less funding than President Bush requested.

The program, which makes international travelers entering and leaving the United States submit biometric information for identity checks, has been protested by foreign embassies and the airline industry because, they say, it shifts the responsibility and cost of security onto the airline industry. Both argue securing U.S. borders is the responsibility of the federal government.

In April, DHS angered the travel industry, especially airlines, by releasing its proposed rule requiring airlines and cruise ships to collect ten fingerprints and a digital photo from each foreign passenger departing the United States.

Doug Lavin of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) told The Washington Post in April that having airlines collect biometric information on passengers "is ludicrous...We can't afford anything in the billions to support a program that should be a government program." Industry lobbyists say the program could cost airlines $3.5 billion at a time when fuel costs have soared.

Connors of NBTA said that his association supports US-VISIT but stressed the security program is an "inherently governmental responsibility."

Criticism has come from inside the federal government as well.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress' watchdog, has also chastised DHS for collecting biometric data from arriving foreign travelers before justifying the program's cost and effectiveness. Fourteen months passed before the US-VISIT program office provided the requisite economic justification for the initiative. By that time, $22 million of the original $65 million allocated for it was already expended.

"By following such a practice," the GAO said in a February report, "DHS did not know whether it was pursuing the most cost effective investment option until after it had obligated tens of millions of dollars."

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