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Public Statements

Security and Accountability for Every Port Act

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Location: Washington, DC


SECURITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY FOR EVERY PORT ACT -- (House of Representatives - May 04, 2006)

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Mr. KING of New York. Madam Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

At the outset before we begin this debate, which will be a very positive debate, let me express my thanks to the ranking member, Mr. Thompson, for the tremendous cooperation he has given throughout deliberations on this bill, and also to the ranking member, Ms. Loretta Sanchez, and to Ms. Harman for working so closely with all the Members, especially Chairman Dan Lungren who is the prime sponsor of this legislation.

I also want to mention other Members such as Chairman Reichert and the ranking member, Mr. Pascrell, for the important amendments that they introduced during the committee markup which have made this a very significant bill.

Madam Chairman, on September 11 all of us pledged that we would do all we could to prevent another terrorist attack from occurring in this country. One of the areas where we are most vulnerable is our ports. There are 11 million containers that come into our ports every year from foreign countries. Much progress has been made since September 11 in protecting our ports and improving the inspection process, the screening process, the scanning process; but the reality is that more has to be done.

I strongly believe that the SAFE Ports Act is a major step in the direction of giving us that level of protection that we need. For instance, it provides $400 million a year in risk-based funding for a dedicated port security grant program.

It mandates the deployment of radiation portal monitors which will cover 98 percent of the containers entering our country and then going out into the country.

It mandates implementation of the TWIC identity cards, and it sets up port training between the employees at the ports and first responders. It also requires more cargo data to be given to improve our automated targeting system.

And as far as the Container Security Initiative, CSI, it mandates that the Secretary of Homeland Security will not allow any container to be loaded onto a ship overseas unless that container is inspected at our request. In the past, we have had a number of countries that refused to make these inspections. There have been 1,000 containers that have entered this country unexamined, uninspected because the overseas ports would not carry out the inspection. In the future, that will not be allowed to happen.

Also, we require DHS to continually evaluate emerging radioactive detection and imaging technology. We also increase the number of inspectors by 1,200. All of these are part of the layered response and the layered system of defense that we need to significantly and dramatically upgrade the level of protection in our ports.

This is a bill which I believe warrants the support of the entire House. It passed out of the subcommittee unanimously, and it passed out of the full committee by a vote of 29-0, and I will be urging its adoption today.

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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Castle, I share your concerns. The legislation under consideration today is only one part of an aggressive campaign to bring common sense to our homeland security efforts. Rail security has been one of my highest priorities, certainly coming from New York, which has one of the largest subway systems in the world. The terrorist attacks on the rail systems in London and Madrid were very grim reminders that our enemies are not above exploiting civilian targets.

In the next few weeks, we will be moving TSA reform legislation that has provisions designed to enhance rail and transit security. This matter is a priority for the committee, and I thank the gentleman for his leadership in this area.

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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.

Mr. Chairman, we went through a very long and productive, bipartisan process in arriving at this point today. It trivializes the debate, it demeans the process, to be suggesting that anyone, anyone at all in this body, certainly anyone on this committee, is not absolutely committed to the protection of every American life. Those of us who came from districts who lost large numbers of people on September 11 perhaps have even a more acute interest in doing all we possibly can.

But we also don't want to do the most cruel thing of all, and that is hold out a false hope. The worst thing of all is to adopt legislation which is symbolic rather than real. We want results. We are not looking for sound bites, we are not looking for headlines, we are not looking for the evening news, we are not looking for the tabloids. We are looking to get results to save American lives and to make America safer.

That is exactly what this legislation does, through layers of defense, through layers of security, through well-thought-out processes and urging as quickly as possible the advancement and the use of technology that can be done. Not technology that might work or might not work, but technology that can work and will work and can be implemented in an effective way.

That is what this is about. That is what the debate should be about. As the late morning and early afternoon goes forward, I am sure the American voters who are watching this will see that there are those of us who do want to maintain the level of debate on both sides of the aisle, and that level is going to bring about American security.

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Mr. KING of New York, Mr. Chairman, I have discussed this issue with the ranking member, Mr. THOMPSON, and it is important to note today, as we consider the SAFE Port Act, that the Committee on Homeland Security is concerned that the list of criminal offenses that will initially disqualify a worker from holding a maritime transportation security card includes vague and overly broad crimes. The proposed list of disqualifying offenses appears to go significantly beyond the already existing mandate of exclusion and we hope that TSA and the Coast Guard, as it finalizes its rules, will narrow and limit the list of disqualifying criminal offenses to more accurately identify individuals that pose a terrorism security risk and who are therefore unworthy to hold a maritime transportation security card.

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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, the manager's amendment makes technical changes, adds several new findings on the importance of maintaining vibrant international trade, clarifies that port security funds can be used to address vulnerabilities in vessel and facility plans in addition to maritime security plans, and clarifies that the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office is responsible for implementing Department of Homeland Security requirements under the Global Nuclear Architecture and that any private testing performed by DNDO will be confidential.

Additionally, the manager's amendment includes two provisions at the request of Chairman LOBIONDO to set deadlines for the enhanced crew member identification cards so that the rollout is on the same expedited schedule as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, TWIC, in the base bill. The second provision is the establishment of a Center of Excellence for Maritime Domain Awareness.

The base bill represents the work of the Homeland Security Committee and also input from several other committees: Science, Ways and Means, Transportation and Infrastructure, Government Reform and others. The manager's amendment also includes several changes to the base bill at the request of our colleagues from other committees.

Specifically, given that H.R. 889, the Coast Guard Authorization Bill Conference Report, is complete and likely to be considered on the floor in the near future, the amendment removes two provisions accepted during full committee consideration that relate to the Coast Guard. The first establishes a pilot program for training Coast Guard reserve officers and, two, the funding for the acceleration of Deepwater. Finally, the manager's amendment establishes a Director of Trade Policy in the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Policy.

The changes and additions made in the manager's amendment are consistent with the overall goals in the base bill and represent perfecting changes at the requests of several of our colleagues. I ask my colleagues for their support for the amendment and the underlying bill.

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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.

Mr. Chairman, at the outset, let me thank the gentleman from Mississippi for his very kind and generous remarks, and I want to again return the compliment by saying it has been an outstanding privilege to work with him as the bill has worked its way to this present stage.

I also want to thank the gentleman from New Jersey for once again reaffirming his support of the Deepwater Program and pledging to work to get the necessary funding for the Coast Guard. All of us saw the outstanding job in Katrina, the outstanding job. They were the true heroes of Katrina, certainly from the Federal level. So I think we stand as one in urging full funding for the Coast Guard.

Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for his support of the amendments.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time and urge adoption of the amendment

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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to control the time in opposition to the amendment even though I am not opposed to the amendment.

The Acting CHAIRMAN. Without objection, the gentleman from New York will control the 5 minutes.

There was no objection.

Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the gentleman from Maryland for proposing a study of an important Customs and Border Protection initiative. The study of the NTC will assist Congress in determining whether the NTC in its current form is accomplishing its mission of better coordinating CBP field operations and communications.

Improving ATS is essential for a robust container security regime. As the home to ATS, the National Targeting Center must have appropriate resources and management to sufficiently operate the system. As stated, I thank the gentleman for offering his amendment, and I am willing to accept it.

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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I want to thank my friend from Maryland for all his efforts in relation to this amendment and to his commitment to the establishment of maritime security command centers.

These centers will be vital tools in the war on drugs, will assist in preventing illegal immigration, and will monitor possible terrorist activity in each region by tracking shipping movements.

I agree that the close cooperation and coordination between the Federal, State, and local governments is an integral part of a successful command center structure, and I will be pleased to accept the amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, at the outset let me thank the gentleman from Texas for introducing this amendment and doing it in such a spirit of bipartisanship. To me, it typifies what this issue should be about: good people from both parties working together to resolve one of the most serious issues facing our country today.

I agree that such a study is necessary primarily because of the sharp increase of trade that the United States has experienced through its ports in recent years. All forecasts seem to indicate this trend will continue.

While this debate largely focuses on seaports, our land ports play a vital role in our economy. Therefore, a comprehensive strategy is needed to address the challenges of efficient trade and land port security. The balance between trade efficiency and adequate security is central to the future success of the United States economy. I urge adoption of the amendment.

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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Including mobile detection capabilities in the evaluation process is vital and will aid search capabilities. Also, these potentially cheap sensors will allow for more widespread application. This detection equipment will be considered under the same criteria and measured against the same real-world performance criteria before they are deployed.

The gentleman's amendment raises responsible questions that must be addressed prior to asking our allies to deploy new inspection equipment or for domestic use.

I appreciate this thoughtful addition to the bill offered by the gentleman from Kansas, and I am prepared to accept the amendment.

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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.

I rise in support of the gentleman from Connecticut's amendment. The type of technology to which he is referring certainly has extraordinary promise. The measured approach he is proposing here, I believe, is the way we should go forward. I understand the Department of Homeland Security may have some concerns, but the fact is, I think, all of us agree the government does not always have the right answer to a particular problem. I believe that the gentleman from Connecticut should be commended for pushing this matter forward and for using his energies and abilities to bring that about.

I know that this technology is said to have limitations, but a thorough operational test by independent evaluators will enable us to look at it much more objectively.

So with that, I strongly urge the adoption of the gentleman's amendment.

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Mr. KING of New York. Madam Chairman, I would like to raise several points. I want to commend my good friend from New York for offering the amendment. Obviously, more oversight is needed. This amendment serves that purpose.

I did have some concerns about the danger of potential national security information being listed. But the language of the amendment does provide an exception on that. There is also some concerns about whether or not this could prove burdensome on some local governments.

I just want to work with him to ensure the amendment does not impose unnecessary burdens on State and local governments.

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Mr. KING of New York. Madam Chairman, I yield myself the balance of the time.

Madam Chairman, I understand what the gentleman from Arizona is attempting to do as far as imposing a sense of fiscal order, but the fact is you know sometimes the price of everything, but the value of nothing. I cannot imagine any potential target in this country which would have more of an economic impact on us than our ports. A nuclear attack in one of our major ports could cost up to $1 trillion in loss to our economy.

The gentleman refers to money that has definitely been wasted in certain projects around the country under the rubric of homeland security. The fact is, we passed legislation in this House last year, H.R. 1544, which would base funding on threat and risk analysis. It is that exact same philosophy that applies to this port security bill. It is based on threat and risk.

As the gentleman from California said, the Coast Guard estimates it would cost over $5 billion for the targeted ports to receive the proper amount of security which they need. This funds slightly less than half of the amount that is required. There is matching money required from the ports.

The fact is we are at war, and we cannot be applying the same green eyeshade philosophy to protecting our National home as we do to other projects.

I agree that nothing is worse than having $1 of homeland security funding wasted. That is why we passed the legislation last year, that is why we are passing this port security, this bill, this time this year to ensure that money will go where it is needed; but it is only going to be based for security. It is not going to be wasted, and to me, this is clearly money well spent. It will also save human lives.

As someone who comes from a district next to the Port of New York and New Jersey, who saw the thousands of people who were killed on September 11, this is a war we cannot afford to hold back in any way. It is essential we go forward. This money is money which is absolutely necessary; and as the gentlewoman from California said, we are taking away the $176 million, adding this. It is money well spent, and I urge defeat of the amendment.

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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Speaker, let me at the outset commend Ranking Member Thompson, Chairman LUNGREN, Ranking Member SANCHEZ, Ms. Harman for the truly bipartisan job they did in putting this together.

Let me also commend our staff, Mandy Bowers, Mark Klaassen, Mike Power, Joe Vealencis, Coley O'Brien, Dr. Diane Berry for working together in a solid way to get a real port security bill.

I am proud of how bipartisan this was, right up till a few moments ago. Just this afternoon we adopted nine Democratic amendments on this bill.

The reality is, though, this is an outstanding port security bill. I came from a district which lost more than 150 friends, neighbors and constituents on September 11. Unlike Mr. Markey, I don't need visual aids to remind me of what happened on September 11.

Mr. MARKEY. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr KING of New York. No, I will not yield. I did not interrupt you.

Mr. MARKEY. Mohammed Atta started in Boston, my friend. There were Bostonians on that plane.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. The gentleman from New York is recognized.

Mr. KING of New York. Amazing how the truth hurts.

I don't need visual aids to remind me what happened on September 11. I can go to my district office and see a woman working at the front desk who lost two cousins. I can talk to another member of my staff who lost a son, or another member who lost two brothers on that day. I can go to church on Sunday and see 10, 15 families who lost people.

This is an issue where every Member on both sides of the aisle is committed to doing the right thing. And it is wrong when people on the other side say the Republicans are not trying to stop another nuclear attack. Do they really believe that? Do they so demean the process of debate in this House that they are willing to do anything to get elected, do anything to make points on evening news, the sound bites, the cable TV?

The fact is this bill is a real bill. It does not send a false or misleading hope. It is not a cruel hoax. It does what is real. It does what can be done, and that is why I am so proud of this bill.

We adopted amendments by Ms. Ginny Brown-Waite, by Mr. Shays. And, by the way, the language in our bill is far similar to the amendment adopted on a bipartisan basis sponsored by a member of the opposition party in the Senate yesterday than anything Mr. Markey or Mr. Nadler have introduced today.

So I say, do what is right. Stand for real port security, stand for a really strong America. Vote down the motion to recommit and vote for the underlying bill that will bring about real safe ports in this country and we can all be proud of it.

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