Airplanes and port cargo will face an "aggressive inspection regime" and heightened security screening standards if John Kerry is elected president, an adviser to the senator's campaign said at a transportation luncheon Friday.
A Kerry administration would raise the security requirements for all-cargo air carriers, according to Edward Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trade Department and an adviser to Kerry on transportation issues.
Wytkind said all-cargo carriers currently receive exemptions from meeting higher standards than passenger airlines.
"We need one level of security, period," he added. "Granting special favors to special interests have no place in the business of protecting our air security."
Under the current policy implemented by the Transportation Security Administration, passenger airlines can only ship cargo from "known carriers," a spokesman for the agency said.
Cargo carried by both passenger airlines and all-cargo planes is also subject to "random inspections," the spokesman added.
Two of largest commercial air-cargo carriers in the United States are FedEx FDX and United Parcel Service UPS.
Wytkind denied that such a policy would "choke commerce."
He said Kerry would also oppose plans to dismantle Amtrak, oppose efforts to privatize the air traffic-control system, enforce safety standards for all trucks and buses entering the United States from Mexico and increase the amount of cargo entering U.S. ports that is screened.
Kerry has accused the Bush administration of settling for a security policy that screens only 5 percent of the cargo that comes into U.S. ports.
The Democratic candidate has raised the issue of port and air-cargo screening in the three presidential debates, arguing that the current standards are insufficient.
"Look, 95 percent of our containers coming into this country are not inspected today," Kerry said during the second debate. "When you get on an airplane your bag is X- rayed, but the cargo hold isn't X-rayed."
Kerry has also faulted the administration for not providing airlines with the technology necessary to carry out homeland security efforts.
Wytkind said adequate explosive detection systems are not in place, even though the technology exists and is ready to be installed in U.S. airports.
President Bush said during the first debate that his administration is "doing everything we can to protect our borders and ports."
Nevertheless, it's still an open question how Kerry would pay for a huge ramp-up in screening and security efforts, and what portion of the expense would need to be picked up by industry.
Wytkind argued Kerry will make sure U.S. ports have the resources they need, but the campaign adviser said it is impossible to know what the price tag for such a program would be without a full review of Bush administration policies.
The Coast Guard has estimated that the 185 commercial seaports in the United States need an additional $7.3 billion to assess and improve security.
The cost of inaction for the transportation sector will be far worse, Wytkind added.
"Without a well financed, safe and secure transportation network, the economy suffers, businesses fail, the movement of commerce and people is stymied and jobs are hurt," he said.
The transportation system brings in $125 billion in tax revenue each year, and the 20 million jobs in the transportation sector represent 15 percent of the U.S. workforce.