October 2, 2006
Port security bill passes
Congress has passed the Security and Accountability for Every (SAFE) Port Act of 2006, the first legislation of its kind to authorize an annual federal funding level to help secure United States ports against terrorism.
The bill, H.R. 4954, calls for $400 million in federal Port Security Grant (PSG) funding for each of the next five years .
"In this important new legislation, members of several House and Senate committees took components of the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act (S. 2459), the SAFE Port Act (H.R. 4954) and the Public Transportation Terrorism Prevention Act of 2006 (S. 2791) to develop a bill that enhances port and cargo security at home, strengthens the lone federal program that helps America's ports harden their facilities against terrorism, and reduces the potential for terrorists or weapons to reach our shores via maritime commerce," commented Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA).
"By passing the SAFE Port Act, we're gratified that Congress recognizes it needs to have a greater financial partnership with U.S. ports to pay for critical seaport security measures," said Mr. Nagle. "Yet, for this upcoming fiscal year, dramatic differences remain between the amount Congress recommended for port security and what it will actually fund."
Referencing the Department of Homeland Security's fiscal year 2007 appropriations bill just passed by Congress, Mr. Nagle said only about half of the PSG funding authorized in the SAFE Port Act ($210 million of the $400 million) was actually appropriated. He stated that helping secure U.S. public port facilities—which handle 99 percent of the country's overseas imports and exports—must be made a higher priority within the federal budget.
In an effort to match actual funding with the amount authorized for port security grants in H.R. 4954, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) proposed an amendment to the DHS appropriations bill that would have provided an additional $190 million from unspent FY 2006 funds. Losing by one vote, a House-Senate conference committee decided to drop that amendment from the final bill.
Nagle said that AAPA and its member ports are "troubled" that Congress decided to appropriate only about half of the money it authorized for port facility security grants for fiscal 2007. He added that port security was considered a top priority by both the Administration and Congress a few months ago during consideration of the Dubai Ports World/P&O transaction, but they missed an opportunity to make a real difference on the issue with the DHS appropriations legislation.
"Considering the high cost of implementing port security, including the new Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) system announced last spring, ports more than ever need a greater federal partnership in their efforts to harden their facilities against terrorism," stated Mr. Nagle.
Further evidencing the shortfall in port security grant funding, DHS this week announced the recipients of the FY 2006 Port Security Grant program, which will distribute $168 million to 50 port areas to help pay for security enhancements like landside surveillance, access controls, interoperable communications and systems to prevent and detect improvised explosive device attacks. AAPA's President Nagle noted that needs identified in PSG applications this round alone totaled more than $550 million, and a number of significant security improvement projects at America's ports received no funding. "To date, due to limited appropriations levels, only about 20 percent of security needs identified in the grant applications have been able to be funded," he added.
"It's important that the next annual spending bill provide the full $400 million for the Port Security Grant program to help ports pay to install TWIC card readers and other terrorism prevention programs at their facilities," remarked Nagle. "AAPA will continue to work with members of Congress to achieve this funding level."
SAFE Port Act of 2006
AAPA says that, in addition to recommending $400 million a year in federal funding for the PSG program, the SAFE Port Act of 2006:
The SAFE Port Act conference report is available at: http://www.aapa-ports.org/files/PDFs/HR4954%5Fconferencereport%5F09%2D29%2D06.pdf