CNMI FACES U.S. DEADLINE TO SUBMIT SECURITY REPORT

By Liberty Dones

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 30) - The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas is being pushed to prepare and submit its homeland security needs assessment and domestic preparedness strategy now to meet a Dec. 31, 2003 submission deadline, or face the threat of losing international cargo shipping and significant federal funding.

Private contractor Federated Sector Enterprises, which is affiliated with SAIC, a large U.S.-based research and engineering company, said in an Oct. 25, 2003 report to Gov. Juan N. Babauta that the CNMI is time-pressed in accomplishing its compliant security plans.

If the preparation work is not accelerated-which means approval of two contract amendments-the CNMI may fail to meet the deadlines. As a result, it may be prevented from receiving international cargo at its ports.

In the briefing paper, FSE managing partner Ferdinand Danny Aranza said there has been no extension beyond the Dec. 31 deadline for all 50 states and territories.

In particular, he said, the Commonwealth Ports Authority should not wait until April to submit its security plan "because it may be too late to gain full approval by the July enforcement date."

FSE has submitted two amendments that call for the release of some $400,000 from the CNMI to cover travel, labor, material and other costs for a port security project team that would help the CNMI prepare the needed reports. FSE proposes to come to the CNMI beginning next month.

Aranza said that, if the port security project team is not retained in time to travel to the CNMI by mid-November, there may be "insufficient time and available personnel to prepare a compliant security plan."

In his letter, Aranza said that Babauta's plan to use homeland security to leverage his priorities for fresh water, public health and increased military attention might be jeopardized without assistance from them.

Aranza assured Babauta that the FSE/SAIC team has the expertise "across a wide variety of fields."

The homeland security needs assessment and domestic preparedness strategy reports are the foundation source documents for securing all homeland security funding for the next two years.

This, even as the CNMI legislature introduced a bill that proposes to create the Office of the Homeland Security within the CNMI Governor's Office.

According to House Bill 13-323, introduced by Rep. Martin Ada, the Homeland Security Office's mandate is to coordinate preparations and response to domestic and international crises by, among others, seeking input from federal agencies and training local and regional responders.

The office is also eyed as the agency responsible for developing a rapid response force to be deployed in the event of a terrorist or in assisting local responders and coordinating additional state resources that may be needed.

The office will be managed by a special assistant and a deputy special assistant whose salaries would be set at $65,000 and $55,000 per annum, respectively. Both gubernatorial appointees are authorized to receive a 20-percent stand-by differential.

The local government is expected to foot a percentage of the personnel and operational funding for the proposed office, based on the special assistant's yearly budget submission.

 

HB 13-323, according to the JGO chairman, was a product of his consultations with the governor's Homeland Security advisor, Jerry Crisostomo, and other administration officials.

Ada noted that he anticipates House speaker Heinz S. Hofschneider to assign the bill to his committee for further deliberation

October 30, 2003

Saipan Tribune: www.saipantribune.com

 

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