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Conference Continues to Press for Increased Port Security
Senate Approves $978 Million to Upgrade Port Security, Multiple Port Bills Gain Momentum

By Ron Thaniel
March 20, 2006

As political fallout over a Dubai-owned company’s aborted plan to take over six major U.S. maritime ports rages in Washington, The United States Conference of Mayors continues to press Congress and the Administration for increased resources to safeguard America’s ports and cities.

As emphasized in a February 21 letter to the Congress and the Administration, Conference President Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill wrote, “Since September 11, 2001, our organization has focused tremendous effort on the issue of port security.”

“As home to one of the world’s largest ports, I am deeply aware of the importance of securing port cargo and operations,” said O’Neill.

The Conference’s advocacy efforts are focused on increased flexible funding for improvised explosive device detection and prevention systems, video surveillance and threat detection cameras, fiber optic communications connectivity, access control communications, command and control facilities, and personnel and detection dogs for screening and checking cargo and passengers.

In addition, the Conference is requesting federal funds to sustain the significant annual operating costs for the reoccurring maintenance of the new security systems as well as salaries of security personnel.

Since 2002, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Port Security Grant Program has provided only $630 million for seaports.

This is in contrast to an estimate by the U.S. Coast Guard that ports would have to spend $5.4 billion over ten years to meet federal-mandated port security enhancements. That’s on top of the more than $3 billion ports have to spend already annually on infrastructure improvements and operations, maintenance and personnel expenses just to keep pace with world trade.

Millions Approved for Port Security

As U.S.MAYOR goes to press, the U.S. Senate last Thursday approved by a 90-8 vote an amendment to the budget resolution that would provide $978 million for port security at both foreign and U.S. ports and to conduct background checks on port works.

The budget resolution is expected to be adopted before the Senate adjourns for the St. Patrick’s Day weeklong recess on Friday, March 17.

The House will consider a similar amendment as it takes up its version of the budget resolution when Congress returns from the recess. If successful through the conference of the two bills, appropriators will be in the position to obligate substantial resources for port security.

Bipartisan Port Security Bills Gain Momentum

Two key port security bills are gaining momentum in the aftermath of the aborted port take over - The Greenlane Maritime Cargo Security Act (S. 2008) and The Security and Accountability for Every (SAFE) Port Act (H.R. 4954).

S. 2008 was introduced in November by Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Chairman Susan Collins (ME) and Senator Patty Murray (WA). This bill would authorize $835 million annually for port security efforts.

It would also require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to submit to Congress a comprehensive strategic plan to enhance international supply chain security for all modes of transportation by which containers arrive in, depart from, or move through U.S. seaports. DHS is directed to develop and implement a plan for improving the Automated Targeting System for identifying high-risk containers moving through the international supply chain, and establishes the Container Security Initiative (CSI) to identify and examine maritime containers that pose a risk for terrorism at foreign ports before they are shipped to the United States.

On March 14, U.S. House Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman Daniel E. Lungren (CA) and Representative Jane Harman (CA) introduced H.R. 4954, which would authorize $800 million annually for port security.

Like S. 2008, the bill would establish standards and verification procedures for securing containers in transit to an importer in the United States, and directs DHS to develop and implement a plan for improving the Automated Targeting System for identifying high-risk containers moving through the international supply chain.

Both bills, which would set aside separate annual funding for port security grants, are at odds with the President’s budget request.

For the second year in a row, the President’s budget has proposed eliminating grant programs in favor of creating a $600 million Targeted Infrastructure Protection program. Under this program state and local governments would compete for funds to pay for security in many areas, including ports, transit systems and chemical plants.

Congress rejected that proposal last year.