The Senate Homeland Security Committee Chaired by Senator Joe Lieberman and Ranking Member Susan Collins today held a hearing to assess the one year progress of implementation of the port security law that was coauthored by the Senators. The hearing was entitled, “One Year Later: A Progress Report on the SAFE Port Act,” and witnesses included Jeff Monroe, Portland’s Director of Ports and Transportation and Steward Baker, Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security.

Senator Collins said, “The SAFE Port Act was a necessary response to our heightened security concerns. About 95 percent of our foreign trade enters the United States through seaports, including more than 11 million containers a year. Ports are tempting targets for those trying to move explosives, biological and chemical toxins, radiological and nuclear weapons, or even terrorists themselves into our country. An attack at a port could cause tremendous loss of life and damage to critical infrastructure. It also could have devastating consequences for the entire economy – disrupting commodity shipments, material for manufacturers, and products headed to market. The SAFE Port Act addresses these vulnerabilities.”

Jeff Monroe called the SAFE Port Act a “big step” toward better security at our nation’s ports, but he called on DHS to make it more a priority. He said that the Office of Cargo Policy, which was created by the SAFE Ports Act, should be elevated within DHS and he endorsed an earlier proposal by Senator Collins for the formation of a high level policy office for cargo security that could help coordinate governmental and private sector stakeholders. Monroe was also critical of DHS’s delay in implementing the Transportation Worker Identification Credential for port workers, arguing that there should be more uniform standards for all sectors of the transportation industry.

Senator Collins also expressed concern over the fact that DHS has just begun to implement TWIC standards to limit access to secure areas of the ports, which were mandates by the SAFE Port Act, and noted that DHS was falling behind the deadlines set by that law.

Monroe further said that the increased funding for port grants authorized by Senators Collins and Lieberman through the SAFE Port Act have been very helpful and that the program should be expanded further.

Following a years long fight to ensure that DHS had available grants that were dedicated to port security, Senators Collins and Lieberman were successful in their efforts in their port security legislation. Monroe said that such dedicated grants were crucial for port managers to meet existing and emerging threats.

The SAFE Port Act was signed into law a year ago and authored by Senators Collins and Lieberman along with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and Norm Coleman (R-MN).