June 26, 2003 – Delegate Donna M. Christensen co-sponsored a successful amendment to federal homeland security legislation on Wednesday that would include Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other institutions serving large proportions of minorities in biological warfare research, development and procurement projects.
In a release, Christensen noted that such inclusive language appears in many other laws.
She and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas) offered the amendment to a bill authorizing Project Bioshield, which passed the Committee on Homeland Security Wednesday. Project Bioshield "is a Bush administration initiative to create a marketplace for counter-biological products for use in case the nation is attacked by biological weapons," the release stated.
The measure now moves on for consideration by the full House of Representatives.
The amendment "was rewritten slightly due to objections by some Republican members that the provision constituted a preference," Christensen said. "To have this language which is found throughout other laws objected to caught me by surprise."
The delegate, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, told her colleagues that institutions designated as HBCU's, including the University of the Virgin Islands, are often overlooked in the government's major research projects.
"With endowments and enrollments down at many of these important institutions, getting financial support is becoming more of a problem for HBCU's," she said, but the ability to access research funding could make a difference.
Also on Wednesday, the release stated, Christensen questioned Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary of Homeland Security for border security, about ongoing Transportation Security Administration cutbacks in airport screeners, which have affected workers in the territory. She asked about the possible transfer of personnel within the agency.
And she again asked that a federal Border Patrol unit be established for the Virgin Islands.
"The Coast Guard units in the Virgin Islands are called upon to oversee what may be the busiest cruise ship port in the Caribbean," she said, referring to St. Thomas, "while having to patrol and guard over 175 miles of unprotected open borders which is our country's southernmost border and a gateway to the United States."
She noted that the territory also is home to Hovensa, the largest oil refinery in the Western Hemisphere. Advocating more funding for Customs, the FBI, the TSA and the Coast Guard to adequately protect the islands' critical assets, she invited Hutchinson to pay a visit "to hear first hand the territory's concerns."
The release also said that:
– As a member of the Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Science and Research and Development Christensen attended a hearing on what experts feel is needed "to protect the critical infrastructure of cyberspace."
– She recently attended Homeland Security Committee hearings in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, on the efforts of federal and local agencies to make their ports more secure.
– She was among committee members who met with military officials at the new Northern Command in Colorado.
– She recently invited Michael Brown, Homeland Security undersecretary for emergency preparedness and response. to visit the territory in the near future. V.I. Sen. Lorraine Berry, who chairs the Senate's new Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Committee, announced in March that Brown had accepted her invitation to make such a visit April 14-15. In the meantime, however, the United States launched the war against Iraq and Brown's visit was put on hold.
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