WASHINGTON –Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Tuesday held a hearing examining the implementation of the SAFE Port Act, a year after Congress passed, and the President signed the bill, which originated in the Committee.

An array of homeland security, ports, and transportation specialists told the Committee that the state of the nation’s port security has improved as a result of this law and other programs such as the Container Security Initiative (CSI) and the Customs – Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT), which were established by the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 to screen high-risk containers at overseas ports and, in concert with the private sector, to track containers as they traverse the oceans toward our ports.

“The implementation of the SAFE Port Act over the past 12 months has brought not just focus and energy to the mission of building a robust security regime domestically and abroad but also a demonstrable improvement in port security,” said Lieberman. “The SAFE Port Act has moved us closer to a comprehensive, coordinated, and multi-layered maritime security regime that protects not just cargo and cargo containers, but ships, piers, ports, and maritime workers as well. Does this mean we can step back and relax? Obviously not..”

“The SAFE Port Act was a necessary response to our heightened security concerns. About 95 percent of our foreign trade enters the United States through seaports, including more than 11 million containers a year. Ports are tempting targets for those trying to move explosives, biological and chemical toxins, radiological and nuclear weapons, or even terrorists themselves into our country,” said Collins “An attack at a port could cause tremendous loss of life and damage to critical infrastructure. It also could have devastating consequences for the entire economy – disrupting commodity shipments, material for manufacturers, and products headed to market. The SAFE Port Act addresses these vulnerabilities.”

Ninety five percent of our international trade flows through our ports. Approximately 21,000 containers enter U.S. ports every day, and the government physically inspects just 5 or 6 percent of them. The SAFE Port Act, signed into law on October 13, 2006, included a program called the Secure Freight Initiative, a pilot program to test the feasibility of 100 percent screening at three foreign ports. Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Policy Stewart Baker said each port posed a set of very different problems that the Department was addressing.

Another problem area for DHS has been the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program, which is slated to be fully operational by the end of 2008. The first phase of implementation began Tuesday at the Port of Wilmington, Del., where port workers were signing up for the biometric identity card. But 750,000 others must be credentialed by next year and the Department’s process for appeals is untested.

In addition to Baker, witnesses included Reginald I. Lloyd, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina; Stephen L. Caldwell, Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office; and Captain Jeffrey Monroe, Director of the Department of Ports and Transportation, City of Portland, Maine.