CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET FOR THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2007
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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, this amendment will provide funding for maritime security, including the container security initiative, improved data for targeted cargo searches, and, most important for purposes of this amendment, full background checks and security threat assessments of personnel at our Nation's seaports. It makes no sense to be obsessed with what is in the containers and ignore those in our own ports who will handle the containers.
In the past few weeks, there has been a new focus on national security concerns surrounding our seaports. We have had a lot of discussion about that issue. Many have called for greater limitations on foreign ownership as well as increased oversight and inspection of cargo ships and loading facilities. This amendment says: Yes, fund port and maritime security. But if this is truly a national security issue, we should ensure that we have background checks and security threat assessments of the personnel at our seaports.
So I repeat, unless we are certain of the individuals who are handling this cargo at our own seaports here in the United States, we clearly have not done the job. This amendment provides $978 million to initiate an enhanced maritime security. Of that amount, $728 million is provided as recommended by the Commerce Committee for maritime security in S. 1052, the Transportation Security Act, and another $250 million is provided to fund these background checks that I was just talking about of the people in our ports who are handling the cargo, the security of which and the contents of which we have all indicated we are so concerned about. The cost of this amendment is offset within the budget's overall discretionary allocation.
So if we really believe, as I know we all do, that our Nation's seaports are a national security issue, we ought to enhance port security, of course, but all that is completely meaningless unless we are certain of the qualifications, the integrity of the individuals in our ports here in the United States handling this cargo when it comes in. When it comes to port security, you can check all the containers you want, but it does no good unless you have also checked those who handle the containers. We have seen numerous reports of false ID's, criminal activity, and organized crime right here in our own country at our seaports. We can't place Americans at risk because we turn a blind eye to this risk.
Let me just sum it up before yielding the floor. What this is about is making sure that these individuals at our ports here in America who are handling this cargo we have all indicated we have enormous concern about, coming from overseas into the United States, into our ports--that the people handling this cargo in our ports meet the highest standards of integrity because it does not make any difference in the world if we have made sure that the container at its original port of embarkation is OK, it doesn't make any difference if we have made sure it is OK on the ship on the way over here. If we have the wrong people handling the cargo here in the United States, America is at risk.
The amendment I have offered on behalf of Senator Hutchison and Senator Frist would secure the funding for these background checks and assessments of employees here in our own country handling the cargo in our ports.
I yield the floor.