(Washington D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) questioned Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on the President's Homeland Security budget and how it affects important Washington state and national security priorities. Among the subjects Senator Murray discussed with Secretary Chertoff were port security, port security grant funding, U.S. Coast Guard funding, PNNL funding, and northern border security.
Senator Murray has worked hard to ensure that Washington residents and the state's trade dependent economy are given the proper level of support from the federal government. Senator Murray co-authored the SAFE Ports act, a comprehensive approach to port security, which was signed into law last year.
Senator Murray's Opening Statement and Questions for Secretary Chertoff follow:
Thank you Mr. Chairman. I want to join you, Senator Cochran, and the rest of my colleagues in welcoming Secretary Chertoff to the Subcommittee.
Port Security Successes
Mr. Secretary, as a Senator from a State that depends on its seaports for its livelihood, the security of our nation's ports has been one of my top priorities.
We first spoke about my plans on port security shortly after you were nominated to be Secretary of Homeland Security. These plans formed the basis of the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security legislation that I worked on with Senator Susan Collins.
As you are well aware, the GreenLane bill formed the backbone of the SAFE Ports Act, which the president signed into law last October. I was pleased to hear of the progress in implementing the SAFE Ports Act outlined in your testimony, and I know we both agree the agencies involved in securing these seaports are doing an admirable job - they are working through many difficult issues.
Could you speak about the Department's initiatives to implement the SAFE Ports Act to improve the security of our ports?
I am particularly interested in the Secure Freight Initiative - that implements multiple pilot projects at foreign ports - and gets us closer to a goal of 100% scanning of U.S.-bound cargo containers.
While I understand that these pilots are on-going, what are some of the early results telling you? As you may know, the SAFE Ports Act required a test center to test the issue of placing radiation detectors at a port where most of the containers are loaded directly from the ship to an awaiting rail car. Can you comment on the status of this project, and specifically some of the selection criteria the Department is using?
Port Security Grants
Despite our work in improving the security of our ports, we still know that there is a lot left to do. As you know, the Commandant of the Coast Guard has said it would cost $5.4 billion over 10 years for our ports to comply with the Maritime Transportation Security Act.
Mr. Secretary, my ports, like so many in the country, continually tell me they need more help to comply with security requirements in the Maritime Transportation Security Act and the SAFE Ports Act.
And current demand significantly outstrips available resources. In rounds 1 through 6 of the port security grant program, the Department received over $4.3 billion in requests but allocated only $836 million. And not all ports are even eligible to apply for port security grants, so the demand is undoubtedly even greater.
We all know of the significant issues our large ports have. Ports like New York/New Jersey and LA/Long Beach have stringent security requirements.
But our smaller ports also have security needs that are not being met. I constantly hear that without an increase in port security funding those security improvements will never be met.
New and expensive requirements are being implemented - this year, the requirement for transportation worker identification credentials and readers will come into effect.
I am heartened to see that the President included $210 million for port security grants for fiscal year 08 after eliminating them in previous years. But given the demand, we know this is not enough.
The SAFE Ports Act authorized $400 million for port security grants, which is what the ports have told us is what they need to assist them with their security improvements.
Are you confident that each of our 360 port facilities is secure? If so, why is your Department still receiving nearly a billion dollars in requests annually for the Port Security Grant program? The Administration has recognized the role the federal government has in helping our ports to improve the security of our nation and has finally included port security grants in its budget request. As a senator from a state with two of the largest ports in the nation at Seattle and Tacoma to very small ports, what plan does the Department have for improving the security at our smaller ports to prevent harmful materials from entering our commerce?
Another area I'm very concerned about not only affects people in Washington State but also has a direct effect on the Department's ability to have cutting edge technology to address homeland security threats.
Mr. Secretary, as you are aware, Washington State is home to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, or PNNL.
I am sure you are also aware that the Department has a sizable portfolio of research at PNNL that touches on almost every aspect of the Department's priorities from cargo and port security to border security projects.
Last year, the Department invested over $100 million in critical research projects at PNNL. This included $73 million for radiation portal monitoring, $6 million for high explosives research and $2 million for counter proliferation.
Some of PNNL's research facilities exist in the 300 Area of the Hanford Site, which is slated to be cleaned up by the Department of Energy. To prevent disruption to the critical work the lab is conducting and to accommodate the cleanup schedule there is a PNNL-capability replacement effort funded by both DOE and DHS. I don't need to remind you that any disturbance of these facilities will have a significant affect on these important Department projects.
Last year, Congress appropriated $2 million in the FY07 Homeland Security appropriations bill for the PNNL capability replacement project. It was my understanding that the FY08 Department of Homeland Security budget would include funding for this project. In fact, I understand that the FY08 Department budget did include $25 million for this project but it was taken out by OMB.
Mr. Secretary, we have a great facility at PNNL with a number of exciting Homeland Security science and technology projects, and I encourage you to come personally, or send your staff out to visit. If you got a chance to see the important work PNNL is doing you would understand that it cannot be put at risk.
Mr. Secretary - What are your plans for ensuring that the critical Homeland Security research at PNNL proceeds without disruption by the Hanford Clean-up? Do you support the addition of $25 million in the Homeland Security appropriations bill for the Area 300 facility at Hanford?
Northern Border Prosecutions
Mr. Secretary, because of the increased presence and law enforcement activity on the northern border, incarcerations and prosecutions are up dramatically since September 11th.
The number of border patrol officers in Washington state has increased substantially. This increased law enforcement presence is important to securing our northern border, but we need to make sure that the communities along the border have the support they need to deal with the increased requirements on them.
The major border crossing between Seattle and Vancouver, BC is in Whatcom County, and it serves as the crossing point for much of the cargo between Canada and the entire West Coast. This is not just a local issue --it is an issue of national importance.
I want to enlist your assistance to address some of the tremendous challenges many of our northern border communities face. We need federal support for local law enforcement efforts at the northern border.
We know that at least 55 percent of all ecstasy tablets seized at the northern border into the United States have entered through Whatcom County. We know that criminals are often turned away at the Canadian border and commit crimes in Whatcom County. For example, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were turned away at the Canadian border and stayed in Whatcom County before moving here and gaining infamy as the D.C. Area Snipers.
Whatcom County, however, is a very small community compared to Detroit and Buffalo and it has a very limited local tax base to cover security costs. The community already absorbs about $3 million in prosecution costs simply because it is located on the border.
We know that the 2010 Olympics and the 2009 Police and Firefighters Games in Vancouver will bring thousands of visitors to the northern border and place further strain on these law enforcement resources.
Mr. Secretary, this community needs some special help - they don't have the tax base or population to sustain this and even greater increases.
There is a fund within the Department of Justice to help southern border communities with these costs.
I believe we need to ensure that northern border communities are eligible for this fund as well. What can your Department do to help communities like Blaine along the northern border? Why should federal support for local law enforcement efforts be limited only to southern border communities? Do you think that northern border communities should be eligible for this program?
Another area I'm very concerned about is how the Coast Guard will use the funds appropriated to it.
Coast Guard Deepwater
In the aftermath of 9/11, we have asked the Coast Guard to assume significant new roles in homeland security. But at the same time, we still depend on the Coast Guard to carry out their many traditional missions.
Last November, Coast Guard helicopters rescued a number of people from flooding rivers in Washington State -- the Coast Guard recently oversaw the cleanup of a small oil spill in Puget Sound -- and a Coast Guard cutter towed a Seattle-based fishing vessel back to port in the Bering Sea.
It has been my great pleasure to work closely with the many men and women who serve in the Coast Guard in Washington State - in Seattle, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and along the Washington coast.
That is why I have been so troubled by the state of the Coast Guard Deepwater acquisition program. We are putting a serious investment in new ships, planes and systems but we may be leaving these brave men and women worse off than before.
The Coast Guard has removed eight 123-foot ships from patrol in Florida, only years after they were renovated. And we have heard troubling allegations that the National Security Cutter - the crown jewel of the Deepwater program - may suffer from design flaws that would produce cracks in the hulls.
Admiral Allen testified before the Senate last month to address these issues. He stated, "We have to get this right.'' Unfortunately, we keep hearing how the Coast Guard is getting it wrong and we the taxpayers are stuck footing the bill on unusable ships.
Part of the issue lies in the oversight of the Deepwater program. The Department's own Inspector General, Richard Skinner, issued a report in January that blamed a lot of the problems with Deepwater squarely on the Coast Guard for poor oversight of the design and construction of its vessels.
Can you please discuss what steps the Department has taken to improve its oversight of the Integrated Coast Guard Systems and the Deepwater project? The President's budget requests $788.1 million to complete the acquisition of four National Security Cutters. Admiral Allen's testimony stated that the Coast Guard will fix Cutters 1 and 2, which are currently being built, and design a fix for future boats. What steps has the Department taken to ensure that the Coast Guard will ensure that future cutters do not include any defect? What actions are you prepared to take if these proposed fixes are inadequate? For the Fast Response Cutter, a GAO report last year stated, "The Coast Guard has expended about $25 million and does not have a viable FRC design to date." How can you reassure the Committee that the next $25 million we spend on the Fast Response Cutter, which is included in the President's budget request, is spent more effectively than the first $25 million?