Washington, DC – Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) today introduced legislation in the Senate to strengthen and increase funding for port security. Her bill, called the Port Security Grant Act of 2005, would establish a dedicated port security grants program within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness. Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) is working together with Senator Collins on this initiative and today introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. Senator Collins is the Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has oversight over DHS.
“Funding for security needs at our ports has been woefully inadequate,” said Senator Collins. “The legislation that Congresswoman Harman and I propose will break the hand-to-mouth cycle that ports have faced for years. Our bill will establish a dedicated grant program within DHS to enhance terrorism prevention and response efforts at our ports. It will provide the resources needed to better protect the American people from attack through these vital yet still extremely vulnerable centers of our economy and points of entry.”
The Coast Guard estimates that implementing the provisions of the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) and similar requirements for international port security will cost $7.3 billion over next decade. Yet, since MTSA was enacted, only the Fiscal Year 2005 budget request contained a line item for port security, and only at $46 million. The Fiscal Year 2006 budget request includes $600 million for infrastructure protection, but does not contain a dedicated line item for port security grant funding.
Representative Harman said, “Until we get more aggressive about port security, our ports will remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks or infiltration. This legislation will help identify where the biggest vulnerabilities are and target funds to those areas. We need to be spending money strategically, not haphazardly.”
The bipartisan, bicameral legislation introduced by Senator Collins and Representative Harman preserves a separate line item in the federal budget dedicated to port security grants. It authorizes funding for port security grants at $400 million per year for fiscal years 2007 through 2012. The bill creates a competitive grant program that ensures funds will be used to address port security vulnerabilities identified through Area Maritime Transportation Security Plans, currently required by federal statute, or through other DHS-sanctioned vulnerability assessments. It also requires DHS to prioritize efforts to promote coordination among port stakeholders and integration of port-wide security, as well as information and intelligence sharing among first responders and federal, state, and local officials. In addition, the legislation includes strong accountability measures to ensure the grant funds are properly accounted for and spent as intended.
Senator Collins has long advocated for increased funding for port security, most recently pressing the issue during Committee hearings with DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and Assistant Secretary Michael Jackson. The Senate earlier this year approved a budget amendment offered by Senator Collins to restore $150 million for dedicated port security grant funding. Senator Collins and Representative Harman recently toured the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California to examine security procedures at the nation’s busiest port. Last Congress, Senator Collins also chaired a hearing that focused on the security of the global cargo container system.
“Port authorities from Maine to California still have significant needs in terms of resources, staff, and equipment to perform their mission of protecting the people and businesses who rely on our ports. They have also expressed the need for greater flexibility to target the funds toward the best and most efficient uses,” said Senator Collins. “Our challenge is to protect the flow of legitimate trade through our nation’s ports, while preventing terrorists from exploiting the system as a means for attacking our nation.”
Approximately 95 percent of U.S. trade, worth nearly $1 trillion, enters the U.S. through one of the nation’s 361 seaports on board approximately 8,555 foreign vessels, which make more than 55,000 port calls per year.