Like a bear stirring itself out of hibernation, Congress is stirring to look at unresolved issues of port, maritime and supply-chain security after being prodded awake by the proposed acquisition of U.S. port assets by DP World. Like the bear, Congress is cranky and somewhat unpredictable. The bear actually may be in a better mood.
Even Republicans who stood foursquare behind President Bush are angry. They feel the administration blindsided them with the DP World deal and weakened their chances for re-election in the fall. Their reaction has been a blizzard of bills to do everything from banning the sale of U.S. infrastructure to foreign investor to requiring inspection of every container that enters the U.S.
The trade industry already has begun a defense to thwart legislation that could change the nature of programs such as the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism or the Container Security Initiative. The trade still has the good will of lawmakers who understand the complexities of moving international cargo. Those members of Congress are still willing to continue the four-year tradition of public-private partnership. But while the trade has allies in Congress, shippers, carriers and intermediaries still will have to fend off congressional efforts to put more stringent security measures on the books in the name of homeland security. There are no guarantees (Related article, Page 14).
Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., is one who believes the private sector has a role in developing security legislation: "I think we want to continue a very strong partnership. I believe we've heard over and over again from the private sector that they really want to be a partner with Congress. The private sector wants to do it in a focused way, and not have things scattered about so that there's a lot of confusion.
"My colleagues have finally realized that maritime anti-terrorism and overall port security is a very important issue," LoBiondo said. "They're starting to pay attention to it. I hope it's not a short-lived issue. Our committee has been trying to ring the bells and sound the alarm, and for whatever reason, the members seem to be pretty comfortable mouthing good words but not following up with actions. I'm hopeful that this latest situation will yield a couple of very positive things that I think will make a difference in this area."
The fallout from DP World has left the industry caught between Congress and the administration, and that makes the path ahead less certain. LoBiondo, chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee, was one of the authors of legislation that became the Maritime …