WASHINGTON - The Bush administration appears to be delaying deadlines for a new ID system to enter and leave Canada in the face of heated opposition in the Senate.
A conflict within the administration itself over equipment is also complicating the government's plan to require high-tech identification cards by Jan. 1, 2008.
Calling the mandate for passports or passport-like PASS cards "a train wreck on the horizon," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., has proposed delaying the restrictions by a year and half from the original 2008 deadline.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is also expected to back the legislation. Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, on Wednesday also voiced support for a time extention.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would look at Leahy's proposal but stopped short of fully endorsing it.
"If they don't figure this out in a way that is secure but also preserves the way of life in Western New York and across the northern border, we'd absolutely support a delay," Schumer said. "Right now we're focusing on making sure they are moving in the right direction."
In any case, the government seems to have backed off previously announced plans to promulgate regulations this year.
Slaughter said that the Bush administration has not budgeted any money for implementing the new identification program for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
The Department of Homeland Security, Slaughter said, has not included in its plan for the period ending April 24, 2007, a provision for publishing regulations for implementing the new identification program.
"Congress must step in to provide direction and extend the deadline, so that DHS does not rush to implement a plan that is ill-conceived and unworkable," Slaughter said.
Jarrod Agen, Homeland Security spokesman, said the regulations will be published next spring. Following that would be a 60-day comment period, he said.
That means that regulations on imposing the new ID mandates for land crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders might not be set until six months before the program is actually supposed to start.
In addition, plans to issue the PASS card this year have been put off until some time next year.
In the background is a tense bureaucratic fight between the two agencies that are supposed to design the PASS-card substitute for the passport - the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
The proposed People Access Security Service (PASS) cards could include digital photographs and radio frequency identification technology.
The State Department wants the PASS card to be readable by computers from only five inches away. Homeland Security wants it readable from 30 feet away - a requirement that critics say raises privacy problems.
Jim Williams, a Homeland Security official, said last week that the longer distance would allow the PASS system to automatically screen cardbearers against criminal watch lists and show data on the border guard's computer when the vehicle arrives at the station.
The conflict has muddled relations between Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and his Canadian counterpart, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day.
After meeting with the homeland secretary, Day said Chertoff told him that driver's licenses and birth certificates would be accepted by American border agents as proof of identity even after 2008.
Later, Day withdrew his remarks. Slaughter asked Chertoff for a clarification but has not received one.
I personally hope for a permanent delay on this.