By  on July 18, 2007

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said Tuesday there was no room for compromise on a proposal to require 100 percent scanning of U.S.-bound cargo containers at foreign ports. The initiative is part of a national security bill heading to conference negotiations with the Senate.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.), chairman of the panel, told reporters in a preconference briefi ng that House negotiators would insist on keeping the mandate in the bill despite intense opposition from the Bush administration and large U.S. importers.

"We will provide time limits for small and large ports to come into compliance," Thompson said. "But we also recognize that some people [foreign port authorities] may not complete that process in the time frame required, so what we hoped to do with that was give the secretary [of the Homeland Security Department] discretion...and the authority to extend that particular aspect of the screening."

Thompson said many members of the Democratic caucus did not want to give the Homeland Security secretary the power to extend the time frames.

"That was part of the compromise," he said. "There were a number of people who felt that the three and fi ve [time frames in years] should be three and fi ve and that's it.''

Thompson's remarks set the stage for negotiations in conference committee that must be completed in 20 days on a bill that would implement some of the fi ndings of the 9/11 Commission, the bipartisan panel that made 41 recommendations to strengthen national security and prevent another terrorist attack.

The House and Senate passed national security legislation this year. The House bill contains the 100 percent scanning mandate but the Senate bill does not.

A call to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, chaired by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.), was not returned.

The House bill would require foreign port authorities to scan 100 percent of U.S.-bound cargo containers for radiation and nuclear materials, as well as x-ray them for suspicious materials. It includes a phased-in application of the technology at large foreign ports within three years and at small foreign ports within fi ve years.Retailers and apparel vendors, who imported $89.2 billion worth of clothing and textiles last year, oppose the 100 percent scanning requirement, arguing that the technology is not yet available and that even the slightest delay in clearing Customs in a foreign or U.S. port could interrupt the entire supply chain.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham and former commissioner Robert C. Bonner have lambasted the cargo screening plan, warning it could cripple global trade and hurt the economy.

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