Lieberman Urges President To Back Up Rhetoric With Resources And Vision To Improve Port Security

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Monday urged President Bush to follow up on his stated commitment to improve port security by backing a comprehensive Container Security Initiative, investing in the physical security of America’s ports, and accelerating the modernization of the Coast Guard fleet.

“Our 361 ports nationwide are Achilles’ heels in the domestic war against terrorism. With just 4 percent of the containers that come through them now inspected, it’s far too easy for dangerous materials, weapons, and people to slip into the country,” said Lieberman. “And despite the Bush Administration’s acknowledgment of the problem, the fact is that far too many urgent improvements are stuck at the dock.”

Lieberman, reacting to President Bush’s visit with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to the Port of Philadelphia, welcomed the temporary enhancements included in Operation Liberty Shield and the plans to purchase up to 700 new response boats, but said closing America’s port vulnerabilities demands a more serious and sustained commitment than the Administration has yet provided.

Lieberman said he would support the emergency appropriations amendment on port security likely to come to the Senate floor this week, and reiterated three major port security priorities, demanding a total of $2 billion in new funding, that he first highlighted in a major policy address February 14, 2003.

  • Lieberman said a new port inspection system must be quickly put in place, stationing Customs officers at overseas ports to inspect more containers before they arrive on our shores. Expanding that program demands an investment of $100 million over the Administration’s budget proposal for next year.
  • Lieberman reiterated his call for the Administration to provide $1.2 billion in additional funds in the coming fiscal year for the physical security of our ports. Despite the fact that the Coast Guard itself has estimated it will cost $4.4 billion to improve basic physical security at the nation’s ports—and despite the Maritime Security Act mandating many security measures without providing the funding to implement them—the Bush Administration provides no new funding for port security grants in its budget for next year.
  • Lieberman said the Administration’s paltry $500 million FY 04 increase in the Coast Guard’s modernization plan, called the Deepwater Initiative, would keep that urgent task on its pre-September 11th pace. To speed up the process—and complete it on a 10-year, rather than 20-year trajectory—Lieberman called for an additional $700 million in next year’s budget.
  • “The bottom line is that the President’s unaffordable, unfair, and ineffective tax cuts have put us in a fiscal straitjacket that prevents us from meeting too many urgent homeland security challenges. The American people realize that—and the it’s time for the President to make hard but necessary choices,” said Lieberman.

    The proposals Lieberman highlighted today were initially made in a speech to the Anser Institute for Homeland Security and George Washington Elliot School for International Affairs at George Washington University, in which Lieberman announced that an additional $16 billion would be needed in next year’s budget to reinforce the President’s proposed homeland security budget.