WASHINGTON — U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) yesterday introduced a bill that would require the Homeland Security Department within 16 months to deploy portal-style radiation detectors in all U.S. ports (see GSN, April 9).
The bill from Sanchez, the senior Democrat on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security’s Infrastructure and Border Security Subcommittee, is part of a push by House Democrats to stake out antiterrorism-policy positions ahead of coming appropriations debates (see GSN, May 5).
“Ports are a prime target for terrorist attack,” said the full committee’s top Democrat, Jim Turner (D-Texas), “and yet, this administration has not done all it can to protect thousands of miles of coastline and millions of cargo containers entering this country each year. We must move faster to protect our communities and the global economy from the impact of an attack at a U.S. port.”
The bill, called the Secure Containers from Overseas and Seaports from Terrorism Act (Secure COAST Act), would require Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection Bureau by Sept. 30, 2005, to “deploy radiation-detection portal equipment at all U.S. seaports, other U.S. ports of entry and major facilities as determined by the secretary” of homeland security. It would authorize $297 million in fiscal 2005 for that work.
“In order to facilitate the detection of nuclear weapons in maritime cargo containers,” Customs and Border Protection would also be required to develop a plan for bringing gamma ray-based radiation-detection portals to U.S. ports and to foreign ports participating in the Container Security Initiative, in which U.S. and foreign governments cooperate to screen U.S.-bound shipments. The plan would be due to congressional committees 180 days after enactment of the Secure COAST Act.
Customs and Border Protection in late March announced a plan to use “highly sophisticated” radiation portals, saying it was “rapidly deploying these devices to all major U.S. seaports” (see GSN, March 23). The bureau also said at the time that it had deployed more than 300 hand-held radiation isotope identifier devices at seaports and land crossings.
Besides the radiation-detection provisions, Sanchez’s bill would require Homeland Security to establish standards and a verification process for cargo-container security, authorize a port-security grant program that would total more than $500 million in fiscal 2005, compel the department to deploy a program to track long-range vessels and create a “maritime information-sharing analysis center.”
The bill would speed the Coast Guard’s massive Deepwater acquisition program to acquire ships and other equipment, shortening the schedule from 22 to 10 years. The measure would also fund an automatic vessel-identification program for the Coast Guard and beef up the force from 39,000 to 50,000 members.
The American Association of Port Authorities expressed support today for Sanchez’s bid to secure more funds for port security.
“Port security, as we’ve said for some time, has been drastically underfunded,” said association spokeswoman Maureen Ellis.