WASHINGTON, D.C.- Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ranking Member Joe Lieberman (D-CT) today expressed concern about potential weaknesses in the Department of Homeland Security’s port security programs and sought more information from the agency about what steps it is taking to improve those programs. In a letter to Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson, the Senators raised questions in particular about flaws in the system that is supposed to target high-risk containers for inspection.
“Just one small lapse in security at our ports or at other points of entry can have disastrous consequences for our nation,” said Senator Collins. “While we have taken steps to protect our ports, it is clear that they are still ‘ripe for exploitation,’ as one security expert put it.” “The security of our nation’s 361 ports is an Achilles’ heel in the domestic war against terrorism,” said Lieberman. “Because so few of the containers that come through these ports are inspected, it’s far too easy for dangerous materials, weapons, and people to slip into the country. Despite some progress made by the Department of Homeland Security, our port security will be seriously undermined unless urgent improvements are made to the risk analysis program.” Hutchinson testified before the Committee about container security issues in March and outlined DHS programs designed to deal with the problem. The Senators’ letter seeks an update on the progress of those programs and asks specific questions about areas of concern. The Senators said three specific weaknesses of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection’s security efforts could undermine the effectiveness of port security programs, including the Container Security Initiative and Operation Safe Commerce: