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In Case You Missed It . . .Senator Lott Speaks On Port Security

From: Office of Sen. Trent Lott   Filed 9/13/06

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, chairman of the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Subcommittee, made the following statement today on the Senate floor in support of H.R. 4954, the Port Security Improvement Act of 2006, on which  the Senate is expected to complete action this week:

 Mr. President, yesterday, Monday, September 11, marked the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our country.  It was an emotional day for all of us.  There were feelings of remembering the unity that it brought to all of us, even here in this institution. After that dreadful day, it was a day of mourning and sadness and a lot of mixed emotions.  But also I think it served hopefully to remind us once again that this terrible threat that we saw come to fruition on that fateful day is still with us, and we have more work we need to do.

 I think it's important that those of us in the Congress point out that we have done a lot of things to address the terrorist threat, to try to make our country safer from a variety of security vulnerabilities since then.  I don't think we talk enough about what we did do.  But I remember very well the months after September 11, 2001, the fall of that year on into the next year for a period of weeks, yes, even months we worked together.  We put aside partisanship.  We put aside political interests, and we just decided we were going to do what was right for our country.  It was a great time.  I might note that the approval rating of the Congress during that period went to the highest level it has ever been, before or since.  The people liked it when they saw us working together and doing the right thing for our country.  And, of course, I should note that it has fallen steadily ever since then.  But we have more to do.

I took the time last month to go to the west coast and look at ports – take a look at the ships that come in and their cargo and how the targeting works and how the random selection works and how the scanning works and how the intermodal systems work.  It is an incredible thing to see – all the cargo that's coming in and going out of our west coast ports – in fact, all our ports.  I represent the coast that serves the Gulf of Mexico. We've got our important east coast ports, too.  It is a phenomenal thing where good progress has been made, but more needs to be done.

I don't know if it's fiscally physically possible to guarantee that our ports are secure.  But we've done some, and we need to do more.  I do point out that we did pass the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002.  This was major legislation, and I was very pleased we were able to get it done.  It has made a difference.  It had a number of provisions in it that have helped us to move toward more sophisticated analysis of cargo shipment data, incorporating arrangements between foreign ports and businesses involved, targeted employment of nonintrusive scanning and radiation detection equipment.  And great progress has been made in that area, even now.                

The  next generation of these scanners are ready to come on the market.  I went and took a look at how one of them works.  It can scan a container in 12 seconds.  You can pick up something as small as a pistol smuggled in among the cargo. You can pick it out because I saw it, and if I saw it, just about anybody can pick it out.  That was a good piece of legislation, but now we have this next step:  the Port Security Improvement Act 2006.  I think the Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and her ranking member, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, deserve great credit for having produced a good bill.  And then they took it beyond that.  They worked with the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, on which I serve, to address concerns of that committee and some of their jurisdictional interests, and then had to go another step and work with the Finance Committee.

This is a case where good work has been done.  It's been done by three different committees and in a bipartisan way.  So we have an opportunity here to do something good and something that is needed.  But more is needed; there's no question about that.  This bill will improve our security at our seaports by including waterway salvage operations and port security plans.   It calls for unannounced inspection of port facilities to verify the effectiveness of facility security plans.

I want to reemphasize that I was a little surprised and impressed at what I saw at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.  Their security operation –  the way the port officials worked with government officials, worked with our security officials, DEA, Customs and all the rest of them where a maze of entities is involved –  it seemed to be working pretty well, I say to the senator from Washington state.

I went out there, frankly, not expecting much, and I was surprised and relatively pleased.  Am I still concerned and nervous when you look at the Port of Seattle?  As the senator has said on the floor, you've got the city, you've got two stadiums, you've got the port, and they're all right there in a pretty compact area.  And you've got all these ships coming in from all over the world at a steady stream.  The risk of the danger is unsettling, so we need to do more.

This legislation provides additional direction on the transportation worker identification card program.  We can do that.  In fact, they've already done it in the private sector.  It's just the government that's lagging behind.  It mandates the establishment of interagency operation centers to coordinate the security activities of many federal, state, and local agencies.  I get a little nervous because I've dealt with this, too.

I remember one time we had a drug cargo coming into my hometown, and a pretty good fracas broke out over who was going to be the lead agency and who was going to take credit?  Was it the local sheriff’s department, local authority, was it Customs?  Was it DEA?  Here's my answer: “Who cares?”  Somebody needs to get the job done.  Quit squabbling over who is the lead agency or who gets the credit or who gets the blame, and make sure it is done seamlessly and effectively.

This bill mandates the effectiveness of interagency operation centers to coordinate the security activities of all these different agencies.  It mandates the establishment of an exercise program to test interagency cooperation.  It establishes a training program for ports and workers.  It improves security in the international supply chain.  I mean, that's what a lot of people say, wait a minute, once it gets to Seattle, it's too late.  Right?  So, what's happening at the port of demarcation?  Who is looking at the situation there?

This bill ensures that following any maritime transportation security incident, there will be an orderly resumption of vessel and cargo movement through our ports.  It authorizes the container security initiative which examines containers at foreign ports prior to their shipment to the United States.  It authorizes the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program to improve information sharing and cooperation between the private sector and the Department of Homeland Security.

Everything I was concerned about while looking at these west coast ports, ports in my hometown and Gulfport, as well as others, I think this legislation addresses or moves in that direction.

It's not enough that we stand around and complain about our concerns when we have a chance to do something.  And so I would urge the leaders of these committees to press forward, do it now.

Let's don't drag this out.  There will be some good amendments that will be offered.  We probably ought to take them; some of them are already being considered.  Some have already been taken.  There will be amendments that are just grandstanding.  That’s all right.  We are senators, but I would just say, we need to get this done.

There's not a lot that we can take credit for in terms of security, in this particular Congress.  This would be good, and besides that, I would hate to be the senator that dragged this bill out and voted against this bill, only to see an incident occur later.  This bill is a plus for the institution.

When you do the right thing for the American people, there's plenty of credit to go around.  Let's get this legislation passed and let's do it now. We don't need to be working on this at 6 p.m. Thursday night.  We can finish this tonight or tomorrow, and then let's move on because it is well-considered, it is bipartisan,

There are some legitimate amendments.  Let's take them up.  Let's deal with them, and then let's go to another subject.  But overall, I just feel good about the work that's been done here.  I think we need to do more, and we need do it really quickly.  And this will be a step in that direction.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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