Bentley Criticizes Congressional Funding Bias

Thursday, July 24, 2003
Helen Delich Bentley, former Chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission, called on Congress yesterday, to reconsider pending legislation that requiresprivate-sector shipping terminal owners and the nation¹s seaports to absorb nearly all of the costs involved in a massive security overhaul of America¹s maritime industry. "Congress gave the airports more money than they knew what to do with. Then they turn around and give the maritime industry a boatload of unfunded mandates, which are nothing more than taxes in my book, and a few million here and there," said Bentley, who addressed the 51st Quadrennial Convention of the International Longshoremen¹s Association at the Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 22. "This has nothing to do with patriotism. It¹s about the very different treatment two key segments of America¹s transportation network received from Congress," said Bentley, whose maritime background spans more than 50 years in various capacities. The Maritime Transportation Security Act, now working through Congress, is "already 700 pages long. And it could be 2000 pages in length when it¹s finished. This bill contains page after page of rules and regulations" soon to be imposed on the maritime industry. "It¹s really going to change the way facilities like the Port of Baltimore do business," said Bentley, a maritime lobbyist and consultant. "They¹re taking an enormous financial hit." Bentley said the bill could cost as much as $15 billion to implement over 10 years. Official Congressional estimates are now $8 billion. "That $8 billion is for the 700-page version they have now. Heaven help us if it hits 2000 pages." Bentley said Congressional funding to date represents "just one small drop in the bucket" of the legislation¹s total costs. "They just laid off thousands of airport security personnel, the same screeners authorities were in such a rush to hire," said Bentley. "Maybe there¹s a lesson in that: Congress can be too overzealous about all this security." Sen. Fritz Hollings, said Bentley, soon intends to introduce new legislation which will establish joint operation centers at major U.S. ports designed to unify America¹s intelligence gathering agencies and local police under one roof, and thus improve inter-agency cooperation and communication. The bill will also require U.S. ports to increase their present rate of container screenings four-fold within two years. Bentley, who was a member of the House Merchant Marine Committee for 10 years, said Congress also needs to address two other security concerns of the maritime community. America¹s effort to partner with authorities in foreign ports for security purposes is being compromised by the understandable reluctance of foreign nations to commit the necessary manpower and resources. And a global shortage of suitable screening devices threatens the timely delivery of international maritime cargo.

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