May 16, 2005

AAPA still seeks higher port security grant funding

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), welcomed news that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has opened up nearly $141 million in funds to help America's seaports pay for hardening security. But, citing U.S. Coast Guard 2002 estimates that ports would need to spend $5.4 billion over 10 years to comply with mandated MTSA enhancements, AAPA said it would continue to seek a much higher level of security grants for U.S. seaports.

Past grant rounds have only funded between 8 percent and 25 percent of eligible applications.

"We applaud the Department of Homeland Security for making available these vital grant funds," said Kurt Nagle, AAPA president and CEO. "However, future funding is also critical. AAPA believes the money appropriated for the grant program must be increased to at least $400 million a year to ensure the ability of U.S. seaports to protect themselves and their communities against attack."

In the fifth round of its Port Security Grant program, noted AAPA, DHS has given eligible port areas until June 10, 2005, to apply for available grant money, which in the past has been used to help pay for fencing, lighting, truck gates, patrol boats and terminal access controls. As a way to prioritize funding for seaports having the greatest degree of perceived risk, DHS is now limiting the number of eligible port areas to 66, stating in its fact sheet, "...the FY 2005 program will direct all available funds to the Nation's highest risk ports, thereby ensuring federally regulated ports, terminals and U.S. inspected passenger vessels receiving PSG funds represent assets of the highest strategic importance nationally." Also in its fact sheet, DHS places strong emphasis on prevention and detection of improvised explosive devices, as well as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear devices.

Nagle said that while AAPA supports making port security grants more risk-based, "we believe that all ports that must comply with the MTSA regulations should be eligible to apply for funding in the Port Security Grant program. The program should ensure we don't leave a soft underbelly of unprotected ports, which are part of our international borders."

Another change DHS has made in this grant round, noted AAPA. is to require private businesses seeking grant monies to provide a 50 percent match. This is in response to criticism from the DHS Inspector General that privately-owned companies, such as petroleum and chemical terminals, are vying with public entities, such as port authorities, for money from the federal program.

Nagle noted that the House Appropriations Committee recently approved $150 million for the Port Security Grant program in FY06, which is level funding for the program but 20 percent more than the Committee had recommended in FY05. "While AAPA continues to seek a much higher funding level, we are very pleased the Committee has approved the Port Security Grant program to continue having its own budget line item and not be lumped into the Targeted Infrastructure Protection program," he said.

In the proposed FY06 federal budget, the Administration recommended eliminating the Port Security Grant program, says AAPA. In its place would be the newly created Transportation Infrastructure Protection (TIP) program that would lump grant proposals from ports together with requests from a host of other transportation-related industries.

In written testimony to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in February, Jean Godwin, AAPA executive vice president and general counsel, argued that lumping port security into the TIP program would "pit an underfunded border protection program (port security) against underfunded domestic transportation protection programs (such as transit)." She noted that AAPA has "great concerns" and "encourages this Committee to oppose this new structure."

Godwin is scheduled to appear as a witness before the same committee on May 17 to discuss implementation of the Marine Transportation Security Act. In her testimony, she will stress AAPA's position that protecting international seaport borders is a shared responsibility by federal, state and local governments, together with seaports and private industry. "Ports, for their part, focus on protecting the facilities where this international cargo enters and exits the country," she will explain. "The security blueprint for these facilities is the MTSA and its regulations."

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