- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

Senate homeland security panel Chairman Susan Collins said her committee will vote next month on legislation to improve America’s port security and thinks the concern over a Dubai company running some U.S. port operations may give the bill new momentum.

“My hope is that the silver lining of the controversy over the Dubai transaction is that it will prompt Congress once and for all to pass comprehensive legislation to deal with the broader underlying issue of port security,” said Miss Collins, Maine Republican.

The administration is conducting a new 45-day review of DP World’s $6.8 billion bid to purchase terminal operations at several key U.S. ports from a British company.

The deal is moving forward, however. Yesterday, Britain’s Court of Appeal dismissed a Miami firm’s objection to it. The takeover is now set to become effective tomorrow, the British company said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Miss Collins plans to move a ports security bill she wrote last year with Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat. The two are also working with House Homeland Security Chairman Peter T. King, New York Republican, and Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, on a similar House bill.

Miss Collins’ measure would authorize $835 million each year for five years to improve current port security programs. It would create an office of cargo security policy, and set new requirements for examination of all inbound cargo.

Miss Collins said the Homeland Security Department is taking far too long to implement some security steps, like minimum standards for mechanical seals on cargo and identity cards for transportation workers.

“We want to make this a priority for the department, set clear deadlines, set clear standards, and I think it will make a real difference,” she said.

The bill would create a program to entice private importers to enact top security standards for cargo in exchange for special treatment, like fewer searches. And it also would direct the department to come up with a detailed plan of how trade would resume after an attack at a U.S. port. There is no such plan in place now.

Mrs. Murray said an attack on one port would require all ports to be shut down for perhaps as long as four months, with devastating consequences.

“People in the Midwest who think they have nothing to do with ports would soon not have anything on the shelves of their grocery stores or Wal-Marts,” she said.

Miss Collins also plans to introduce a new bill later this week with Sen. Joe Lieberman, the ranking Democrat on the homeland security panel. It would move the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) — which approved the DP World takeover deal — under the purview of the Homeland Security Department, as opposed to the Treasury, as is now the case.

Audrey Hudson contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.