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The truth about the President’s homeland security budget is that the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality. Our nation’s ports are an essential component of our economic infrastructure, and they represent one of our greatest vulnerabilities, but the Administration’s budget will weaken our investment in port security.

Last week, the President was at the Port of Charleston to talk about seaport and cargo security. It is one thing to give a speech in front of our Coast Guard assets and quite another to actually provide the men and women of the Coast Guard with the tools they need to do their job.

This Administration is flirting with disaster with its lack of sustained and serious attention to port security. We cannot allow any port in this country to become a weak link in the security chain.

Operation Safe Commerce: Eliminated

In his budget, President Bush seeks to kill a promising port security program called Operation Safe Commerce. Operation Safe Commerce, which is just now getting off the ground, uses innovative new technology to track foreign cargo containers from their point of origin, through their entry into our country, and onto their final destination. The President wants to eliminate this program.

Marine Transportation Security Act: Underfunded

As disappointing and shortsighted as this is, it is just the tip of the iceberg. The MTSA – or Marine Transportation Security Act – is the law of the land. It will finally help lay the foundation for the first time for a comprehensive, system-wide security regime at all of our nation’s seaports. Last year, Admiral Collins testified before the Senate that it would take $7.3 billion over 10 years to implement the MTSA, and that we would need a down payment of $1.5 billion for fiscal year 2005. But the President calls for spending only $100 million for fiscal year ‘05 – that’s just 7 percent of what Admiral Collins says we need. A 7 percent security system is just not good enough.

Last week, the President’s budget director told me that the White House is committed to implementing the MTSA, but had a hard time squaring the Administration’s rhetoric with reality.

Administration: Let Ports & Businesses Fund Security

Yesterday Secretary Ridge appeared before the Senate, and I asked him about this discrepancy. While I was prepared for Secretary Ridge to give me a less than satisfactory answer – I have to say that I was truly not prepared for his actual answer.

He said – and I am quoting: “The gap is a place where we need to have a public debate as to whether or not since these basically are intermodal facilities where the private sector moves goods in and out for profit that they would be responsible for picking up most of the difference.”

Not to put too fine a point on this, but I hear the Administration saying that “developing a comprehensive port security regime” is not the government’s responsibility. I couldn’t disagree more.

If the Federal Government walks away and sticks our local ports and businesses with a billion dollar bill this year, we won’t get the security we need and our families, economy, and country will remain just as vulnerable to attack. Putting our nation’s security in competition with other local budget needs is a risk I am not willing to take.

Imagine the consequences for our security and our economy if we had to shut down our ports because we had not taken the proper steps to protect ourselves. We know how our economy was affected when aviation was grounded after the attacks on September 11th. We know the cost of Senate buildings being closed after Ricin and Anthrax attacks. If our nation’s ports were locked down after a terrorist attack, the economic impact would be astounding. Stores in every state wouldn’t be able to stock their shelves. Businesses wouldn’t have the supplies they need. Everyone who works at or relies on our ports would be threatened. And our exports could be stuck on the docks -- instead of being sold overseas.

Words won’t help protect our nation’s seaports, but Operation Safe Commerce, adequate support for our Coast Guard, and funding for port security plans will make our ports safer. The President’s budget abandons the progress that our government, ports and shippers have worked together to achieve. Our national security and economic stability depend on doing better than the President’s request, and that’s what I’m fighting for.