Compromise cuts spending for airline screening system

House and Senate negotiators on Thursday approved less funding than the House had proposed for a controversial program to pre-screen airline passengers.

The compromise bill to fund the Homeland Security Department in fiscal 2006 would provide $56.7 million for Secure Flight instead of the $65.9 million proposed by the House. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) oversees Secure Flight.

"TSA has failed to provide a fully justified cost estimate for this program ... or achieve initial operational capability with two airlines on August 19, 2005, as originally planned," appropriators wrote in their conference report. "At this time, TSA does not have a revised schedule and milestones. The conferees have reduced funding for Secure Flight accordingly."

The negotiators also directed the Government Accountability Office to keep monitoring TSA to make sure Secure Flight meets all 10 criteria appropriators set for it in fiscal 2005.

The current bill also includes a provision that would ban Secure Flight's use of commercial data. The American Civil Liberties Union praised the move.

"TSA must stop trying to circumvent legitimate concerns about the Secure Flight program, and Congress must continue to oversee the program to better protect the privacy of Americans," Timothy Sparapani, the ACLU's legislative counsel, said in a statement. "This program has failed time and time again, and it's time to let it die."

The negotiators further agreed to less funding than the House proposed for national security standards for driver's licenses. The bill would provide $40 million in grants to states to implement a 2005 law on immigration and driver's licenses; the House proposed $100 million.

The language in the bill would make $6 million of the money available immediately for test projects "in order that lessons learned and best practices might be made available to all states as quickly as possible."

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