WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees the Department of Homeland Security, announced today that she will co-chair the Congressional Port Security Caucus. The caucus, which will also be co-chaired by Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC), Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-NJ) and its founder, Rep. Chris Bell (D-TX), will focus on the security needs of the nation’s ports.
The bicameral, bipartisan organization currently has 85 members, representing the top 33 U.S. ports in terms of foreign tonnage imports. Portland, Maine, is the largest tonnage port in New England. It is the largest inbound foreign transit port in the United States in terms of tonnage and among the nation’s top 10 ports in total tonnage. The congressional caucus will act as a clearinghouse for information on issues and potential legislation that address port security. Its members want to ensure that port grant programs are adequately funded in a timely manner to provide all U.S. ports with an appropriate level of security equipment, technology and cargo screening.
In a hearing before Collins’ committee last month, Captain Jeffrey Monroe, director of Portland’s Department of Ports and Transportation, testified that port directors often must act as mediators among the various federal agencies that are making new, often conflicting rules for securing port operations.
“Port security procedures and policies need to be standardized and coordinated at the federal level,” Collins said. “In addition, we must streamline the federal grant process for port security and ensure that federal funding is accessible to all U.S. ports, regardless of size. This caucus will work diligently to attain those goals. We must ensure the safety of our ports, and the lives of those who live and work nearby.”
Last month, Collins announced a bipartisan initiative with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) to create a coordinated, community-based strategy for homeland security grant programs. The initiative includes a thorough analysis of port security needs and attempts to incorporate federal port security grant funds in the larger community-based strategy.