Senate passes port inspection deal; no 100% inspection

Published 18 September 2006

The beefed-up port security measure places heavy emphasis on radiation detection at U.S. ports, but Republicans fought off Democrats’ demand to include a mandatory 100% inspection of all U.S.-bound cargo containers; bill also increases funding for rail and land transportation security

The fear of meeting voters at midterm without any tangible homeland security legislation focused the mind of the Senate on Thursday as it unanimously passed a $5.5 billion port security bill (including $1.2 billion for rail security and $2.4 billion for mass transit), with $400 million available in grants to states and municipalities. Despite the efforts of the Democratic leadership, the final language excluded amendments brought by Democrats to mandate 100 percent container inspection at all major foreign harbours in four years paid for with an $8-a-container fee.

Shipping companies and retailers roundly opposed the latter measure, saying that consumers would pay a high price for an unproven and expensive technology. As a compromise, the deal authorizes a pilot programm at three foreign ports to test the feasibility of overseas scanning for radiological threats, though no ports have yet been named. The bill also increases safeguards on the rail systems that pick up cargo from ports; authorizes 1,000 new agents to screen containers coming off ships; authorizes the installation of radiation portals at twenty-two U.S. ports by the end of next year; awards priority inspections and expedited release of cargo for shippers demonstrating good security practices.

As a final measure, the bill also establishes a new office within DHS to coordinate port security and orders the department to prepare a plan for getting cargo moving again after an attack. One study estimated that a twelve-day shutdown of the ports could cost the U.S. economy $58 billion.

The House has approved its own version of the bill, but an October recess means that final negotiations are not likely until after the November elections.

-read more in this AP report