(WASHINGTON, DC)-- U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Norm Coleman (R-MN), and Patty Murray (D-WA) are calling on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to issue guidance for port security and other transportation security grants, a necessary step before the grants can actually be awarded. Grant guidance outlines eligibility for grants, the purposes for which grants can be used, and how to implement program priorities. The Senators expressed concern that eight months into the fiscal year, DHS is behind schedule and yet to issue the guidance that port, port authorities, public transportation systems, and other grantees need to apply for grant money.
In a letter to Secretary Chertoff, the Senators wrote, “The delay in issuing fiscal year 2006 guidance is unacceptable, particularly in light of the security needs facing our ports and public transportation systems.” They called on Chertoff to announce a date certain by which the grant guidance would be released and they expressed concern that the Department might limit the number of ports eligible to apply for grant funding.
The full text of the letter is as follows:
Dear Secretary Chertoff:
We are writing today to request a date certain by which the grant guidance for the Department’s transportation and infrastructure security grants will be issued. The delay in issuing the FY 2006 guidance is unacceptable, particularly in light of the security needs facing our ports and public transportation systems. In addition, we are concerned that the Department has decided to further limit the number of ports eligible to apply for port security grant funding.
The Dubai Ports World controversy brought much needed attention to the critical issue of port security, an issue of longstanding concern to us. America’s sea ports, large and small, are our partners in keeping our nation safe and our economy moving. The funding needs this year are even more critical. As the Department begins to issue Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) cards to maritime workers, port authorities and facilities face significant additional costs to deploy new biometric access control systems. We expect that deployment of these systems will be priority projects under the port security grant program this year and into the future.
The Department’s failure to issue the grant guidance yet this year exacerbates remaining security gaps at our ports and will likely adversely affect the ability of applicants to prepare quality applications in a timely fashion. The Inspector General has now issued two reports criticizing both the quality of the applications under this program and the rigor of the Department’s review process. While improvements have been made in the process, the rush to award this year’s grants may negate the progress that has been made. In addition, we understand that the grant awards must be made before the new fiscal year begins, only 16 weeks from now. The Office of Grants and Training has indicated that processing the award paperwork will take 3 weeks. As such, only 13 weeks remain to issue the grant guidance, develop and submit applications, evaluate the applications and announce awards. The timeline is more pressing for port authorities, given the competitive nature of that grant program.
As noted above, we are concerned that the Department is now limiting the number of port areas eligible to apply for funding to 78, as opposed to the 100 expected for FY 2006. We fully support awarding these grants to port entities on the basis of risk and need. At the same time, Congress designated the port security grants program as competitive. As such, port entities should be able to make the case for funding, with the Department reviewing their applications and assessing them based on risk and need. Both the House SAFE Ports Act and our proposed GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act include a provision specifying that all entities subject to Area Maritime Security Plans may apply.
We have repeatedly inquired as to the timing of the release of the grant guidance. In April, Deputy Secretary Jackson testified before our Committee saying, “I believe that the release of the grant guidance is imminent…It will be very soon.” There is no longer time for internal deliberation; it is time for action.
Susan M. Collins
Joseph I. Lieberman
Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
Subcommittee on Transportation
Committee on Appropriations