Murray Gets Commitment from Napolitano for Full Briefing on Decision to Cut Back Critical Port Security Detection Devices

Feb 24 2010

Murray also highlights benefits of maintaining the Olympics Coordination Center in Bellingham

Listen to Senator Murray Question Secretary Napolitano

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) received a commitment from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to meet with her to explain the Administration’s short-sighted decision to cut critical radiation detection devices at our ports at a time when we know terrorists are looking for weak links in our homeland security system. Murray authored the 2006 SAFE Port Act which made the implementation of these detection devices a top priority.

Murray highlighted the cut in funding to radiation monitors at a hearing of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, and expressed her deep concern to Secretary Napolitano about the Department’s ability to keep the country’s ports safe on such a limited budget. (Q&A below)

Senator Murray has long been the Senate’s leader on ensuring the security of our nation's ports.  She also worked to secure hundreds of millions of dollars to implement the port security grant program authorized in the SAFE Port Act, and has worked closely with the DHS to ensure that it is implemented properly.

During today’s hearing Murray also pressed Napolitano to maintain the successful Bellingham Olympics Coordination Center following the Vancouver Olympic Games and praised the Center’s effectiveness in providing a seamless coordination for security efforts among agencies at the Northern Border.  (Q&A below)

Question on port security:

Senator Murray:…I’m concerned about where we are in the implementation of this Act.  Recognizing the unique catastrophe from a nuclear device, SAFE Port required all cargo entering through our top ports to be scanned by radiation detectors.  You’ve done that. But the Department’s budget proposes only $8 million for the Radiation Portal Monitor Program under DNDO (Domestic Nuclear Detection Office] so we can cover the smaller ports. But this funding isn’t enough to finish installation of portal monitors at all ports.  In fact it doesn’t come close. 

Why, when there are still many vulnerable ports across the Pacific Northwest and the Country – does this Administration only include $8 million for radiation monitors – especially when your Department still hasn’t met its own goals?

Secretary Napolitano: I need to be careful that I don’t get into some areas that classified, but if I might just say I am very cognizant of this issue. There is a plan in place and I would prefer to be able to brief you in a non-public setting

Murray: Well I would be happy to do that, but I’m very concerned that $8 million only provides 10 additional monitors, far short of the 752 that are supposed to be out there. If you would like to do that in a classified setting I would be happy to that, but I’m very concerned that this part of the SAFE Ports act is not being moved forward, and I’m deeply concerned that the budget request is not going to get us there.

Secretary Napolitano: Duly noted. We will get that on the schedule.

2010 Olympics Coordination Center Question

Senator Murray:...I believe a facility like the Coordination Center will help us meet our homeland security needs in a comprehensive way and that DHS would be well-served to keep it in operation.  And I want to ask you now - having seen the Coordination Center in operation, whether you believe we should maintain the Coordination Center in Bellingham to meet the threats we know we will continue to face along the Northern Border. Has the Coordination Center established for the 2010 Olympics been a success, and do you believe that it could be maintained going forward?

Secretary Napolitano: As you know I was out there earlier on, looking at the coordination center as it was getting up and running. I am going to go back out there this weekend. Part of my job there is going to be to talk to people about if this would make sense to do. I have heard great reports, and my mind is very open. I just want to see what we have seen over the past couple of weeks, how it’s been during the fall, and just get a sense from people on the ground about their feelings.