- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

Nearly six months after public outrage thwarted a Dubai-owned company’s bid to purchase some U.S. port operations, the House and Senate yesterday quietly approved bills to overhaul the panel that approved the deal.

The House approved a bill on a 424-0 vote that members from both parties said balanced U.S. security with foreign investment. “We improve our security in the right way,” said Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican and lead sponsor of the bill.

The Senate approved its version by unanimous consent yesterday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said the measure “strengthens the [panel] review process in a number of ways.”

Notable differences between the bills remain.

Both versions include changes to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The interagency panel, headed by the Treasury Department, is charged with reviewing security implications of foreign acquisitions or mergers affecting U.S. assets.

Earlier this year, the panel approved a $6.8 billion bid by DP World to purchase terminal operations at six U.S. ports. Members of Congress, top administration officials and President Bush were unaware of the approval until the firestorm of security concerns had begun. The Dubai company ultimately backed down from the deal.

The House bill requires a 45-day CFIUS investigation for any deals involving companies controlled by foreign governments, as well as deals that could impair national security, are opposed by any member of the panel or are flagged by the national intelligence director. CFIUS conducted an initial review of the DP World deal but did not opt for the 45-day investigation until the public outcry.

The Senate bill triggers the 45-day investigation when a deal could impair national security, or involves a foreign government or critical infrastructure.

The House bill would add the Energy Department as a panel member and place Homeland Security and Commerce Department officials as the vice chairmen. The Senate bill would add the national intelligence director as a panel member and place the secretary of defense as vice chairman.

Republicans and Democrats in the House said they crafted the bill to ensure it would not discourage job-producing foreign investment in the United States.

Rep. Michael G. Oxley, Ohio Republican and chairman of the Financial Services Committee, said the DP World deal created an overreaction but highlighted “some very deep concerns” about the CFIUS.

Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on Mr. Oxley’s panel, said the bill “improves the situation without any sort of drastic change” that would hurt foreign investment.

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