House Passes Port Security Legislation

Monday, May 08, 2006
The House of Representatives passed legislation today that would tighten security at U.S. seaports, requiring more ``dirty'' and nuclear bomb detectors and background checks on dockside workers. Under the measure, which was approved 421-2, the Homeland Security Department would have to put in place enough radiation monitors to scan 98 percent of the cargo coming into the U.S. by the end of the next fiscal year, which is Sept. 30, 2007. With House passage, the focus of the port-security debate turns to the Senate, which plans to consider a similar measure within the next few months. The Bush administration is generally supportive of the legislation, although it thinks the deadline for installing detectors is overly ambitious. Port security legislation was stalled in committee until Congress was spurred by the public outcry last month when DP World, a Dubai state-owned company, bought terminal operations at six major U.S. ports. The measures in both chambers would ease customs inspections for importers such as Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer. In exchange, the companies would be required to strengthen the security of the cargo. The House legislation proposes spending $5.5b over six years to fortify security at the nation's ports. Within 90 days of enactment, the Homeland Security Department would have to check whether port workers with access to secure areas are illegal immigrants or on the terrorist watch list. The department would be required to expand the data it puts into a computerized system used to detect suspect cargo. A Senate report released on March 30 said the system has ``significant flaws.'' The Senate's Homeland Security panel approved legislation May 2 that's similar to the House bill and costs about the same. The Senate measure would require within 15 months of enactment that all shipments entering U.S. ports be scanned for nuclear and ``dirty'' bombs. A dirty bomb is a weapon that contains radiological material and is set off by conventional explosives. At issue is whether the Homeland Security Department can be ready to meet the demands from Congress by the appointed deadline. (Source: Bloomberg)

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