WASHINGTON, D.C.—An editorial in today’s Washington Post endorses a port security bill, coauthored by Senators Collins and Patty Murray (D-WA), that is currently being debated in the U.S. Senate. The bill, which the Washington Post says “contains several common-sense proposals” will establish improved cargo screening standards, provide incentives to importers to enhance their security measures, and implement a framework to ensure the successful resumption of shipping in the event of a terrorist attack.
The following is the full Washington Post editorial.
The Senate should pass the solid port-security bill before it.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
THE BRIEF SESSION of Congress that just convened is distinguished in part for what is absent from its agenda — immigration and lobbying reform, for example. A notable exception, though, is a serious bill that has just emerged from the Senate Commerce, Finance and Homeland Security committees: the Port Security Improvement Act of 2006.
The bill contains several common-sense proposals. It requires the Department of Homeland Security to develop a strategy to rapidly resume trade after an incident at one of the nation’s ports, in order to limit economic slowdown. It codifies a number of good programs in law, including the Container Security Initiative, which, if it operates properly, will target suspect cargo for inspection in foreign ports before it gets close to the United States. And it establishes deadlines for Homeland Security to complete critical infrastructure projects — including installing radiation portal monitors in the nation’s 22 biggest ports by the end of next year.
Two things distinguish this moderate legislation from the irresponsible rhetoric on port security that has marred debates on the subject for years. First, it does not call for 100 percent of containers arriving at U.S. ports to be individually inspected for all dangerous materials. The “inspect all containers” mantra is a red herring that exploits Americans’ fears about what might slip through in order to score political points, ignoring the fact that there are much more cost- and time-effective ways of keeping dangerous cargo out of the country.
To her credit, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the bill’s key sponsors, recognizes that the time and money it would take to inspect all 11 million containers that come into the country every year would be prohibitive with the technology available today, and she has committed to vote against it if such a provision is added. Instead, the bill calls for a pilot program in which the feasibility of individually inspecting all containers leaving three overseas ports will be gauged, which should test promising next-generation technologies without significantly slowing the pace of trade to the United States.
Second, while providing five years of steady funding for port security projects, the bill does not dedicate money for port security in perpetuity. The initial costs of making essential improvements such as buying radiation detectors, putting up fencing around ports and coordinating inspection procedures with ports overseas will require a fair amount of steady start-up cash. But a half-decade of grants for improving port security ought to be enough. After that, port security should have to compete for federal money with other worthy projects.
With those sensible checks in place, the Senate should pass this bill.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company