Clouds gather over PASS card delay proposal

Legislation that would delay a pending requirement that citizens re-entering the country present secure citizenship and ID credentials took a hit today as an influential senator pledged opposition against the measure.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said he would send a letter to conferees on the Homeland Security Department's fiscal 2007 appropriations bill urging them to reject a proposed delay in the People Access Security Service program.

The PASS card program delay would stall a pending requirement that citizens entering from Western Hemisphere countries present either passports or a new type of cheaper, 'passport-lite' ID card that the Homeland Security and State departments are developing.

The PASS card program forms part of the administration's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which envisions the imposition of the new requirements on air and sea travelers at the end of this year and on citizens entering by land in December 2007.

The Senate adopted a provision known as the Leahy-Stevens amendment to HR 5541 that would delay the PASS card requirement until June 2009 and impose technical requirements on radio-frequency identification device technology involved. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) worked to advance the amendment, which passed the Senate without objection. The House version of H.R. 5541 does not include the provision.

Grassley, however, holds the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee. Today his committee sponsored a hearing to examine gaps in federal border credential controls.

The hearing featured testimony by Gregory Kutz, the Government Accountability Office's director of forensic audits and special investigations. Kutz presented the results of a GAO report, titled 'Border Security: Continued Weaknesses in Screening Entrants into the U.S.,' that described how GAO auditors used counterfeit driver's licenses and birth certificates to bluff their way past Customs and Border Protection officials at nine border crossing points.

'CBP officers never questioned the authenticity of the counterfeit documents presented at any of the nine crossings,' Kutz testified.

The hearing also featured testimony by Jason Ahern, CBP's assistant commissioner for field operations, among other specialists in the field from government and industry. Ahern described 12 steps the agency plans to prevent similar incidents of successful document fraud at the borders.

Ahern emphasized the importance of adopting the PASS card as a secure credential to help foil document fraud at the border.

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