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(Seattle, WA) -- Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) spoke at a Commerce Committee field hearing in Seattle on port security.

Her Opening Remarks Follow:

This is one of several hearings being held in port communities around the nation. These hearings will help us in the Senate respond to the new security challenges facing our ports in the wake of September 11th.

Our solutions to these challenges must be comprehensive. But they must also be flexible enough to reflect the unique elements of each port -- including those here in the Pacific Northwest.

No survey of our nation's port systems would be complete without a look at Washington state. We provide a unique perspective on challenges and solutions.

To help us do that, we've assembled representatives from the domestic port community, government, foreign seaports, technology companies, and organized labor to share their ideas on improving security.

It's going to take all of us working together to implement good solutions so I want to thank all of the witnesses for being here today.

I want to extend a special welcome to one of our witnesses, Mr. Robert Yap, the executive vice president of the PSA Corporation, which handles the Port of Singapore and others international ports. He is accompanied today by Mr. Vincent Lim, Deputy President of PSA. Welcome, Mr. Lim. Their perspective from a foreign port will help us understand how various proposals would affect our ability to trade with other countries. As we improve our security, we don't want to penalize the foreign shippers who use our ports, or we'll pay the price in lost jobs and commerce.

Mr. Chairman as you know, Washington state is in a unique position to help shape our nation's seaport security work. Washington is the most trade dependant state in the nation, and our seaports are the life blood of our economy.

The Ports of Tacoma and Seattle together form the third largest load center for containerized cargo in the United States. 1.8 million containers pass through this region each year. That cargo generates billions of dollars of goods each day and supports tens of thousands of good paying, family-wage jobs.

The Puget Sound also has marine security challenges that other regions do not.

  • We share a land and sea border with Canada.

  • We have several important defense installations that share our waterfront.

  • And we have the largest passenger ferry system in the country.


In the Northwest, we must balance all of these security needs with the continuing need to keep cargo moving efficiently.

I want to outline the challenge before us, talk about the steps we've taken so far, and finally lay out some principles for a national solution.

The Challenge

For decades, we've built our port infrastructure and procedures around economic efficiency, and we've done a good job. Many of the folks in this room have helped make our port system efficient and that's helped our economy and our community.

But since September 11th, we now need to add a new element to the equation -- security.

We've got to realign our port system around efficiency and security. We're really starting from scratch. There are few standards for handling or inspecting foreign cargo as it enters our ports. Often, we don't know where a container has come from or what's inside.

There are also many players involved in moving goods to and from our ports including -- buyers, sellers, banks, inland carriers, foreign seaports, carriers, governments, and consolidators. The wide range of partipants in itself adds to the security challenge.

Because we're starting from scratch and involving so many players, our response must be prompt and it must be comprehensive. We can't wait 10 years for one group or agency to develop a plan. I hope today's hearing will help us meet these new challenges together.

Whatever we do, we must be mindful that it does not slow down the progress we have made in expanding the productivity and efficiency of our ports.

The United States receives some $750 billion worth of cargo at 360 seaports every year. That's roughly one-fifth the U.S. economy. We don't want to gamble with such an important part of our economy.

Progress So Far

In Congress, we've been working on seaport security for several months, and I want to so briefly summarize what we've accomplished.

First, the Puget Sound will get its own Marine Safety and Security Team because of funding I secured in last year's Defense Supplemental Appropriations Bill.

We will receive one of the first of four teams in the nation trained to operate fast response boats that can intercept ships carrying suspicious cargo well before they reach the port or even the coast. I'm pleased to report that the commissioning ceremony is this Wednesday.

I also included $93.3 million in the Defense bill for port security grants. This money will help ports pay for security assessments, enhance facilities and operations, and create better security partnerships. These grants were released on June 17. They provide $5.7 million for seaports and maritime security activities in Washington state including $653,000 to assist security efforts on the Columbia River.

In addition, I've used my position as chairman of the Senate Transportation Subcommittee to review our government's security efforts.

I've held hearings to examine the proposed budgets for the Coast Guard and for the new Transportation Security Agency. In May, I held a hearing on cargo security in Washington, D.C. In April, I held an Appropriations Subcommittee field hearing on this topic in this very chamber. I also attended a set of full Senate Appropriations Committee hearings on homeland security where seaport security was discussed.

Because we've had an overwhelming number of applications for the original funding, I included an addition $200 million in this year's Senate Supplemental Appropriations bill for seaport security grants.

I also included $28 million for an initiative called "Operation Safe Commerce" in the Supplemental. This is an initiative at the nation's three largest container ports – which includes the Ports of Seattle/Tacoma – to test and deploy a program that applies a system-wide approach to seaport security. The initiative calls for all stakeholders to develop international standards from the point of origin to the final destination. These standards would provide advanced information about cargo and ways to monitor the cargo during transit.

The Supplemental includes $59 million for the U.S. Customs Service Container Security Initiative, which has similar goals to "Operation Safe Commerce."

Finally, let's not forget that this Committee passed the Port and Maritime Security Act in December of last year. That legislation would --

  • improve cooperation among all the stakeholders,
  • force ports to evaluate their security needs,
  • better secure port facilities,
  • require information about cargo shipments be evaluated before they're granted entry into a U.S. port,
  • improve reporting of cargo and crew,
  • and authorize grants to ports to help comply with these new mandates.


That bill is now in conference with the House.

Principles

After looking at the challenge and our work so far, I'd like to close by laying out a few principles for policy solutions.

First, our solution must involve all the stakeholders in the shipment of goods, both private and public, foreign and domestic. By developing a plan together, we can establish the trust and cooperation we'll need to carry it out.

The nature of container traffic makes it difficult to secure the trade route. Foreign manufactures, ports of origin, shippers, destination port authorities, and organized labor are all critical elements in the shipping chain.

They are our best allies to securing the trade lanes. Without cooperation among all of these players, any system we create will be vulnerable.

Second, we must create international standards, where none exist today. Those standards must do two things.

They must provide reliable information on cargo to everyone in the supply chain. That way officials at home and abroad can identify suspicious cargo and quickly determine if it poses a security risk. These standards must also ensure good communication between all the players in the system.

Third, the costs of these improvements must be shared so that no single entity in the system is burdened with ensuring the security of the system as a whole.

Because most of the players are private businesses – concerned with the bottom line – our approach should provide economic incentives to encourage everyone to work within the system.

It must include a way for safe, reliable players to have better access to our markets and to remain active even if an incident should occur. A complete shutdown in the cargo container business could have a severe impact on our economy -- a much larger impact than the one we saw when the aviation industry was grounded immediately after September 11th. I think most of the private entities who are involved in trans-shipment of commercial goods would pay a premium for such a incentive.

Fourth, our new system should not disadvantage American ports in this highly competitive environment.

So as I see it, port security plans need to involve all stakeholders, must create international standards for information and communication, must spread the costs around, and must not disadvantage American ports. I recognize that's a tall order, but working together I think we can meet those principles.

One thing that would help would be more interest and support from the current Administration. Customs, the INS, and the Coast Guard are all doing a great job of trying to address the vulnerability of our seaport, but this initiative needs more support from the very top.

So far, the Transportation Security Administration has only doled out responsibilities. It hasn't yet developed the comprehensive approach that is needed to properly secure our trade routes.

In fact, the additional $200 million in the pending Supplemental for seaport security grants, and the money in the Supplemental for "Operation Safe Commerce" and for the Customs' "Container Security Initiative" are not supported by the President.

The President has said he will veto any Appropriations bill that is above what he requested. So I hope we'll have a more cooperative approach from the White House and the TSA to help us and our ports make these needed improvements.

It's clear we have some very critical issues to discuss today. So I again thank all of the witnesses and everyone here today.