- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Legislative remedies to the Dubai ports deal currently in circulation belong to either of two categories: either to alter or kill the specific Dubai deal, or to change the way the government handles mergers and acquisitions with national-security relevance. Both warrant serious deliberations in the coming weeks. Considered properly, the debate will direct needed attention to gaps in port security.

Nearly all the congressional proposals alter the transaction significantly in ways that neither Dubai Ports World nor the Bush administration anticipated. Some bar the deal outright. One bill calls for banning all foreign government-owned port transactions initiated after Oct. 1, 2005 — which would block Dubai Ports World but grandfather Chinese and Singaporean government-owned firms currently operating on the West Coast. Another proposal calls for an American firm to handle all operations for Dubai Ports World — which would ensure that Dubai Ports World would enjoy the economic benefits while minimizing access to sensitive data and operational information. At the least, Congress wants a stronger voice and participation in reviewing the deal.

No surprise, neither the Bush administration nor Dubai Ports World likes these proposals. The Bush administration wants to give Congress more time to study the facts. Dubai Ports World, for its part, is happy to be investigated in a second review, but doesn’t want to share anything with a new American firm. On CNN’s “Late Edition” Monday, Dubai Ports World chief executive Mohammed Sharaf matter-of-factly said that his company has enough American partners.

The alternative entails either changing the government’s processes to handle these transactions or increasing spending to improve port security generally — or both. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is the target of the first change. One Senate proposal calls for the committee’s chairmanship to be stripped from the Treasury Department and moved to the Department of Homeland Security on the grounds that the department can better guarantee that national security trumps economics in sensitive transactions. Other proposals are likely to mean greater congressional participation in the review process or to stiffen the committee’s criteria and implementation.

Another proposal creates an “office of cargo security policy,” strips port security from other transportation-security areas and calls for greater spending for DHS agencies. Further scrutiny of port and maritime security are clearly necessary. Taken seriously, these proposals present a welcome opportunity to tighten port security. Over the next two months we’ll see whether Congress can redeem its promises.

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