- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

Senate homeland security panel Chairman Susan Collins said yesterday that she will introduce a bill to give the Homeland Security Department the lead in approving foreign takeovers of companies that touch on national security.

The concern over a Dubai-owned company taking over some U.S. seaport operations has spawned a flurry of similar legislation on Capitol Hill, including bills to block the deal or prevent similar future deals.

“The process right now is deeply flawed,” Miss Collins, Maine Republican, said of the interagency committee currently charged with approving acquisitions such as the Dubai deal.

“I think we need to scrap the committee, start again, constitute it within the Department of Homeland Security,” Miss Collins said on ABC’s “This Week,” adding that a member of the intelligence community also should be part of the review panel.

She said she’ll introduce legislation this week with her committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

The main problem, she said, is that the review panel — the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) — is currently led by the Treasury Department, and thus “weighed towards investment concerns” instead of toward national security concerns.

Although Miss Collins and Mr. Lieberman are fighting to give Homeland Security control, however, they’ve also suggested that those same officials ignored or covered up Coast Guard concerns about the terminal deal. And they’ve criticized the Homeland Security Department for lack of planning and response on Hurricane Katrina and on its spending priorities.

President Bush has repeatedly defended the terminal deal, under which Dubai-based DP World will take over terminal operations in six major U.S. ports from a British company. After its initial administration approval caused a firestorm of criticism, the administration agreed to a 45-day review.

Mr. Bush said he’d veto any bill to block the deal, but some key legislators are already pushing such measures.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and the House Armed Services Committee chairman, last week declared that “Dubai cannot be trusted” and said he’ll introduce a bill this week to block the deal. His bill also would kick out any foreign-owned company that leases port terminals or manages other critical U.S. infrastructure and require 100 percent inspection of all cargo coming into U.S. ports.

Yesterday, he told ABC’s “This Week” that Mr. Bush will probably change his mind about the deal once he learns of Dubai’s problems, such as how the country allowed a shipment of devices used in nuclear weapons, despite U.S. protests.

“I trust President Bush, but I think he needs to get more information,” Mr. Hunter said.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan introduced a bill Friday to block the deal.

“I don’t need 45 days,” the North Dakota Democrat said. “I don’t need 45 minutes. … It’s just nuts.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, is leading a bipartisan group that includes Miss Collins in pushing legislation that would give Congress the ability to veto the Dubai deal if they are not satisfied with the 45-day review.

The five Democratic and five Republican senators in the group sent a letter to Senate leaders Friday, asking for assurances that Congress will be kept fully informed as the review progresses and will reserve the right to veto the deal if they aren’t satisfied.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is pushing a companion House bill with 81 co-sponsors.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, wouldn’t comment Friday on the bipartisan Schumer letter, saying he’ll review it. But he said it’s clear the Dubai deal has pushed CFIUS reform and ports security to the forefront as “two areas we have to address.”

In the House, Mr. King directed his committee members to craft a bipartisan ports security bill long before the Dubai issue emerged, but he said the current atmosphere “could be an opportunity to take advantage of this momentum to move forward.”

Similarly, Miss Collins used the Dubai debate last week to push her ports security bill, introduced last year with Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, and Mr. Lieberman.

The bill would create minimum security standards for incoming cargo containers and a new office of cargo security policy and make other port security improvements.

But Miss Collins is hardly alone in her desire to reform the CFIUS process. Senate banking panel Chairman Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, has been complaining about the CFIUS process for a while and plans to introduce bipartisan legislation in the next few weeks. He, too, wants to ensure that CFIUS automatically subjects cases such as the Dubai deal to a full 45-day investigation, always considers all possible national security implications and keeps Congress in the loop.

• Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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