Congress picks up homeland security work

Homeland security activity on Capitol Hill picked up this week as the House approved legislation to build a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the Senate expanded funding for port security.

The Secure Fence Act (H.R. 6061) is similar to a provision the House passed as part of an immigration reform bill in December 2005. The Senate has not voted yet on the fencing proposal.

At a press conference Sept. 14, House Republican leaders called for hardening borders by spending $2.3 billion for border patrol agents and $161 million for border security technology, including aerial surveillance and unmanned aerial vehicles.

House Speaker Denis Hastert, R-Ill., outlined the group's latest approach to immigration reforms and border security. He said the GOP would attempt to pass several provisions immediately to create a "virtually no-penetration border," without including President Bush's proposal for a guest worker program to let illegal aliens temporarily work in the United States.

Democrats criticized the House GOP's new approach as political posturing to gain support before the November elections.

Hastert said the border fence would include state-of-the-art technology and surveillance, although he did not specifically name the technologies.

In addition, the Senate passed legislation to authorize more than $5 billion for port security over six years, including $400 million in port security grants. It also provides $1.2 billion for rail security and $2.4 billion for mass transit security.

The Port Security Improvement Act sets additional cargo-screening standards, creates incentives to importers to enhance their security measures, and establishes protocols for resuming shipping in the event of a terrorist attack.

It also requires that the Homeland Security Department develop a strategic plan to secure ports, and to create an Office of Cargo Security Policy to coordinate activities, according to a press release from the bill's author, Sen. Sue Collins, R-Maine.

The Senate bill still needs to be reconciled with a House version, and then passed by both chambers before it can become law.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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