Congress plans to boost port security

House bill calls for $2.4 billion in grants for high-risk locations

FUNDING PLAN: Sen. Susan Collins co-sponsored a bill to improve security at 350 ports.

J. Adam Fenster

Port security legislation approved by the House Homeland Security Committee last month authorizes the award of $2.4 billion in grants to high-risk ports over six years.

The grant money can pay for purchasing and upgrading security equipment, including IT products, to enhance terrorism preparedness.

Eligible equip- ment is expected to include video surveillance systems, waterside surveillance vessels, vehicle inspection stations, closed-circuit telecommunications and access-control equipment for the main gate.

The Security and Accountability For Every Port Act, H.R. 4954, co-sponsored by Reps. Daniel Lungren (R-Calif.) and Jane Harman (D-Calif.), also approves $600 million over six years to create regional maritime and cargo information-sharing centers involving the Coast Guard, the FBI, Customs and Border Protection, and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

The regional intelligence centers would do enhanced information sharing, facilitate 'day-to-day operational coordination,' and facilitate incident management and response, the legislation states.

'Legislation that addresses the vulnerabilities of our ports is long overdue,' Lungren and Harman said in a joint press release April 26, adding they're pleased the committee acted with a sense of urgency to bring the bill to the floor as soon as possible.

The legislation was approved by unanimous consent and is expected to go to the House floor soon. The committee rejected a Democratic amendment that would have required physical inspection of all U.S.-bound cargo containers in foreign ports.

Lungren and Harman's bill is the House version of the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act, introduced last November by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Collins and Murray's bill would improve security at more than 350 ports around the country. The bill would authorize $835 million in appropriations, with the funds coming from duties now collected by DHS' Customs and Border Protection directorate.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, of which Collins is chairwoman, held a hearing early last month and passed the bill last week.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

The legislation also calls on DHS to complete implementation of the International Trade Data System, a single, uniform system for the electronic collection, dissemination and sharing of import and export data.

DHS also would be required to direct research, development, test and evaluation of maritime and cargo security technologies, and initiate grant and demonstration projects through Operation Safe Commerce.

The committee also approved a measure offered by Collins and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) that would pilot an integrated scanning system to cover all containers from three foreign ports.

Congress has long recognized the need to improve port security. Last summer, the Government Accountability Office told a Senate subcommittee that shortcomings in the Container Security Initiative and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism programs create security gaps that terrorists could exploit.

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer for GCN's sister publication Washington Technology.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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