- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

Bills that aim to improve the security of the nation’s ports and other key infrastructure advanced in both the House and Senate yesterday, weeks after public uproar scuttled a Dubai-owned company’s bid to operate terminals at six U.S. ports.

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee yesterday approved 20-0 a bill that would reform the interagency panel charged with approving such foreign deals — forcing more thorough investigations and congressional involvement.

And a House Homeland Security subcommittee approved by voice vote legislation that would boost funding for the nation’s ports and improve port-security programs.

Many lawmakers were caught off-guard by February press reports of the approval of the deal involving DP World, based in the United Arab Emirates. Lawmakers said the panel charged with approving such deals — the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) — should have notified them of the situation and should have given far greater weight to homeland security and terrorism concerns when making its decision.

“Congress and the American people require greater confidence in the process,” said banking committee Chairman Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican.

“CFIUS did not move with the times,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, referring to enhanced security concerns in a post-September 11 world.

Part of the concern is that the CFIUS rarely conducts a 45-day investigation of such deals, opting instead for 30-day reviews, as it did with the Dubai deal.

Under Mr. Shelby’s bipartisan bill, deals would go through the 30-day review to determine whether they merit a longer investigation, and any CFIUS member could request more time to decide. The 45-day investigation would be required if a deal involves a foreign-government-owned company and critical U.S. infrastructure, such as ports, that could affect national security.

The bill would place the defense secretary as co-chairman of CFIUS and would add the director of national intelligence as a panel member. It would require CFIUS to notify Congress of pending deals and to develop a system to rank each country according to its adherence to nuclear security standards and relationship with the United States.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has a competing bill that would scrap the CFIUS panel and reconstitute it under the Homeland Security Department.

Mr. Shelby said there isn’t much support for that idea in the business community.

“Treasury’s the proper place” for foreign business deal reviews, he said.

Meanwhile, a House Homeland Security subcommittee approved a bill — sponsored by Rep. Dan Lungren, California Republican, and Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat — that would authorize a little more than $4 billion over five years to improve port security, install radiation portal monitors at U.S. seaports and develop a recovery plan in case of a transportation attack.

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