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Security and Accountability for Every Port Act

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


SECURITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY FOR EVERY PORT ACT -- (Senate - September 13, 2006)

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Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I rise today, obviously, in support of amendment No. 4970 which we will distribute in a moment. The Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 required the Transportation Security Agency, which we call TSA, to develop a biometric security card for port workers to limit access to sensitive areas within a seaport. To satisfy this law, TSA is developing a transportation worker identification credential which we call a TWIC card. The law requires that the Secretary of Homeland Security issue a card to an individual requesting one unless determination can be made that they pose a terrorism threat. However, it should trouble Americans that the law specifically allows those who have been convicted of a felony more than 7 years prior to their application or have been released from incarceration 5 years prior to their application to be eligible for a TWIC card. This standard is too lax and must be strengthened. DHS officials need clear rules that prevent those convicted of serious felonies from obtaining access to our secure port areas. My amendment does just that. It takes the standards the TSA uses for airport workers with access to secure areas and applies them to maritime port workers.

Let me make that clear. The exact same standards that are used in our airports for workers are in this amendment to apply to transportation workers at our port. Just like the TSA airport safety regulations, my amendment automatically bars those convicted of serious felonies, which are listed in this amendment, including crimes of violence, fraud, bribery, and terrorism, from being allowed to obtain one of these transportation cards.

TSA's airport rules have successfully kept felons out of the airport workforce, and it is time we do the same for our seaport workforce. Because of the gravity of the threat facing our ports, we cannot afford to roll the dice by hiring convicted felons. The stakes are too high.

When setting policies that will keep our transportation system secure, we are continually told by experts that we must identify and reduce risk in every situation possible. This amendment will prevent high-risk individuals from having access to our most sensitive port areas.

Keep in mind, felonies are serious crimes that are punishable by incarceration or death. This amendment is not aimed at so-called youthful offenses or individuals who have received several traffic tickets. My amendment also does not take away the current ability of the Secretary of DHS to grant a waiver for exceptional cases. Felons, through their previous criminal activity, are more likely to be persuaded to look the other way when a suspect shipment comes through the port. This suspect system could contain a variety of dangerous items--dirty bomb, weapon, contraband to sell that would help finance terrorist operations, just to name a few. Someone who will commit extortion, fraud, or traffic in drugs should not be trusted to protect the security of our maritime cargo. While felons do need a second chance, it should not come at the expense of an extremely vulnerable part of the U.S. port infrastructure.

I know some people may object to my amendment by saying that longshoremen might be criminals but they are not terrorists. I do not believe longshoremen are criminals, by the way, but that is why we need to allow DHS to focus on crimes that specifically relate to terrorism. While it may be true that many of the criminals working in our ports do not wake up with the intent to promote terrorist activity, this does not mean they do not pose a terrorist security risk. What I and many others fear is that convicted felons could pose a security terrorist risk by working with those criminals associated with trying to sneak drugs or stolen goods into this country. It might actually turn out to be 50 grams of plutonium instead of 50 grams of cocaine that could be used as a dirty bomb that would poison--kill thousands of people, or maybe it is not part of a dirty bomb or chemical weapon. Maybe it is just ordinary contraband which could be used to help fund terrorist activity in the United States.

Some others think it is too expensive to automatically exclude individuals who have committed one of these serious felonies from working in our ports.

To those objecting colleagues I would say: please detail to us which one of the airports in their State these offenders should be working at, because the list of felonies we use was lifted right from the same list the TSA uses for airports.

Another argument I have heard is that we are not going to have enough people to work in our ports.

This is an exaggeration. The fact is, the TWIC card will be rolled out and workers who need to have access to the secure area will apply for the TWIC card. As a practical matter, felons know who they are, and they know that they will not be issued a TWIC card. The likely effect is that they will never apply for a card in the first place. The local union will immediately notice that a number of its workers are not applying for TWIC cards. They will then have the opportunity to reach out to their communities and find new union members to fill the spots.

Logistically, this is not a huge challenge. The port of Charleston has 2,000 longshoremen working there. If severe criminality, as outlined under the amendment is rampant within the workforce and is at the high level of 10 percent--which is nearly double the national average for incarceration at one point in their lifetime of 6.6 percent--that would only mean that they would need to replace 200 workers in the whole port of Charleston.

The bottom line is this applies the same protection to seaports that applies to airports. The current TWIC regulatory regime writes their security regulations to fit their workforce. It should be the other way around. The workforce regulations should be written to meet their security needs.

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Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I allowed the amendment to be read because our critics have already suggested that this amendment would include minor offenses. I will challenge critics of this bill to point out which of these felonies they would like transportation workers in our ports to be able to commit. It makes absolutely no sense for us to spend literally hundreds of millions of dollars as a nation to protect the security of our airports and our ports if we allow the workers who are using this scanning equipment for these inspections to be of a criminal nature.

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