Senate Homeland Security and Governemental Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on Port Security Legislation

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Senator Susan Collins, and Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman today considered Port Security legislation that was authored by Senators Collins and Patty Murray (D-WA) and was cosponsored by Senator Lieberman. Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) is also a cosponsor. The Committee heard testimony from key stakeholders in our maritime security system who expressed the urgent need to enact comprehensive port security legislation. Witnesses included: port officials; Representatives Jane Harman (D-CA) and Dan Lungren (R-CA), who have introduced similar legislation in the House; and officials from the Department of Homeland Security, Chamber of Commerce and International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Senator Murray also testified.

Senator Collins said, “This hearing builds on our extensive efforts to enhance the security of our nation’s maritime transportation system and the international supply chain. Seaports are more than waterfront facilities. They are crucial links in a supply chain that includes all modes of transportation and that reaches across the country and around the world. They also are profoundly and unacceptably at risk,” She added, “Al Qaeda has a stated goal of causing maximum harm to the American people and maximum damage to the American economy. Clearly, our cargo ports provide a tempting target. We cannot eliminate the risk of terrorist attack, but better supply chain security can build a stronger shield against terrorism without hampering trade. Indeed, greater security can promote trade and strengthen the global economy by building confidence and trust.”

Senator Lieberman said, “The fact is, at any given moment, our government still has too little knowledge about the contents of thousands of multi-ton containers that are loaded onto trucks, trains, and barges for shipment into and across the heart of this nation every day. The nightmare scenario we all want to avoid is the smuggling of a nuclear bomb or a dirty bomb within a shipping container. We need a comprehensive, coordinated, and multi layered strategy to protect not just cargo and cargo containers, but ships, piers, ports, and maritime workers as well. We need to do this to protect our national and economic security before terrorists strike. The GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act would do just that.”

Senator Murray said, “Just this morning, Americans learned of the smuggling of 21 Chinese nationals into the Port of Seattle in a cargo container. What keeps me up at night is the thought that terrorists or deadly weapons could be next,” Senator Murray said. “It is far past time to put in place a strong security regime to protect our residents and our economy and the GreenLane bill does exactly that. I applaud Senators Collis and Lieberman for holding today’s hearing and working to move this critical legislation forward.”

Approximately 95 percent of our nation’s trade, worth nearly $1 trillion, enters or leaves through our seaports. Foreign vessels carry the bulk of the approximately 800 million tons of goods that come into our country. In fiscal year 2005 alone, more than eleven million containers arrived on American soil by sea and this number is growing at a rate of over 10 percent a year. While this figure represents robust trade, it also signals a considerable risk to our nation’s security.

The GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act was introduced last year after close consultation with key stakeholders including port authorities, major retailers and importers, carriers, labor organizations, supply chain managers, security and transportation experts, and Federal and state agencies. The Dubai Ports World deal and recent incidents in which Chinese nationals have successfully arrived at U.S. ports after remaining undetected in sealed cargo containers underscore the flaws in our current maritime security structure that would be addressed though this legislation.

Specifically, the bill would:

· Protect Americans by making our cargo and seaports more secure – mitigating a dangerous vulnerability.

· Help prevent a lengthy shutdown of America’s seaports in the event of an incident – protecting America’s economy from severe disruption.

· Provide layered security at every step of the supply chain while keeping it efficient.

· Push the borders out so we can focus our limited resources on suspect cargo.

The bill improves security at America’s ports by establishing:

· The GreenLane, comprised of supply chain participants who voluntarily meet the highest level of security, allows our security services to better identify and respond to potential threats and provides real incentives to importers to enhance their supply chain security measures.

· Minimum security standards for all cargo containers entering the U.S. and requirements that strengthen current cargo security programs.

· The Office of Cargo Security Policy to ensure accountability and coordination of cargo security policies, procedures & regulations at the Department of Homeland Security and with other agencies.

· Joint Operations Centers to ensure a coordinated, measured response and the resumption and flow of commerce in the event of an incident or heightened national security threat level.

· The Act also authorizes $835 million for Port Security Grants, the Container Security Initiative and C-TPAT generated through the collection of customs fees.