Border technology upgrades & maritime grants included in Defense Bill
Congressman Brian Higgins announced approval of the National Defense Authorization Act, with measures that could benefit efforts to improve border crossing technology and repair aging ships at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.
“We are very excited to see the Maritime Heritage Grants Program authorization proceed to allow for the preservation of U.S. Naval history,” Higgins said. “Buffalo is proud to be home to vessels that tell the stories of American heroism and we are fighting to see that there are resources available to protect and improve these ships.”
The legislation includes Higgins’ amendment supporting the National Maritime Heritage Grant. Under the bill, $5 million in grant program funding is authorized through the program for education and preservation projects focused on historic maritime resources. Established in 1994, these monies are administered by the National Parks Service and traditionally funded by proceeds from the sale of obsolete vessels. However, despite the great need to preserve aging vessel museums, the program has not allocated any grants in recent years due to lack of available funding.
Leaders from the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park brought this to Higgins’ attention. He has championed legislative language providing a direct allocation of funding for the maritime program.
Grants are awarded on a competitive basis and require matching funds from non-federal sources. A recent assessment of the Buffalo Naval Park’s floating vessels determined more than $973,000 in funding is needed to paint and repair the hull of The Sullivans, a destroyer vessel commissioned in 1943 and deployed for duty in WWII and the Korean War.
Paul Marzello, president and CEO of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, said, “We appreciate the dedicated efforts by Congressman Higgins to preserve our National Historical Landmark designated ship. Preservation is a pillar of our great mission, which also honors, educates and inspires our citizens about the service and sacrifice of our veterans and their families.”
The defense bill also includes the Securing America’s Ports Act, which calls for the addition of nonintrusive inspection (NII) systems at all land ports of entry to allow for the seamless inspection of 100% of passenger and commercial vehicles. According to a Committee on Homeland Security report on the issue, “Today, CBP scans only 15 percent of commercial trucks and one percent of passenger vehicles entering the U.S.”
A 2015 study commissioned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection found wait times over 15 minutes would be virtually eliminated at the Peace Bridge with the implementation of technological improvements like this, all at a cost more than $50 million less than the implementation of pre-inspection with CBP officers located in Fort Erie.
Higgins, who serves as co-chair of the northern border caucus, called for expanding this technology in a recent letter to the incoming Biden administration regarding the northern border. He wrote, “… we need to revisit strategic deployment for infrastructure investment at northern border land ports of entry. New technologies, like large scale non-intrusive inspection technology, would expedite crossing for both passenger and commercial vehicles and could have been used to provide less-restrictive means of travel restrictions during the pandemic. The long-standing focus on security and efficiency at the border must now also incorporate public health. Integrating technology that limits passenger and border official interactions promotes a safer, touchless, and seamless screening environment.”
The legislation also includes a pay raise for this nation’s troops, and prevents any further base realignment efforts, protecting the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
The Senate is also expected to vote on the National Defense Authorization Act this week. President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the legislation. However, the House and Senate have indicated plans to override, should a veto occur.