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April 12, 2004

Hollings maritime security bill makes progress

Senator Hollings' bill to boost port security has now passed the Commerce Committee.

S. 2279, the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2004, makes a number of changes to existing port security programs to enhance their effectiveness, and provide greater structure for Department of Homeland Security port-related activities.

As passed by the Commerce Committee, the bill:

  • require a national intermodal cargo security plan within 180 days of enactment. The plan will detail how cargo security programs will operate in a coordinated fashion, and requires evaluating the effectiveness of the program to inspect containers in foreign seaports.
  • require the Department of Homeland Security IG to evaluate the targeting system for the inspection of international intermodal containers and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. If the targeting system is considered insufficient, the amount of inspections in the next year will need to double.
  • mandate the Coast Guard to evaluate existing joint operations centers, such as operation SeaHawk in Charleston, to determine whether and where additional centers may be necessary, and how they are used to implement security.
  • evaluate the foreign aid budget to assist foreign countries that lack effective antiterrorism measures, aiming at assisting those countries with compliance to international port security standards.
  • provide $35 million annually to test port security technologies at U.S. ports
  • .

  • require identifying all nuclear facilities in the vicinity of navigable water that could be damaged from a transportation security incident; determine deficiencies in the security plans of these facilities, and require criminal background checks of all mariners engaged in the transportation of nuclear materials.

The Senator had wanted to assess a $400 million annual user fee over the next five years to pay for increased port security, but the provision was stripped by an amendment Senator Trent Lott offered that passed 13-10.

This marks the fifth time Senator Hollings has tried to find a way to cover the costs. "There is basically no money in the Administration's budget to fund the ports," Hollings said. "But if there is a terrorist action at a U.S. port, we'll close them all down, and it will cost the economy billions of dollars each day.

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