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(Seattle, WA) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray held a field hearing in Seattle to examine the vulnerabilities at our nation's ports. As the Chairman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, Murray helps write the budget for the Coast Guard and other entities that are responsible for port security.

During the hearing in Seattle, Murray heard testimony from the Coast Guard, Navy, INS and others.

Senator Murray's Opening Statement Follows:

Good afternoon, the Subcommittee will come to order.

The tragic events of September 11th have taught us a lot about what we need to do to make our country safer, and to protect our lives and our liberty. At the federal level, we've been working every day to find our vulnerabilities and to eliminate them.

Today, we're going to explore the unique security concerns facing our ports. I'm pleased that we have many distinguished experts from the port community and government agencies to share their insights with us.

I've been working on port security for several months now.

Last year, I worked with the Navy and the Coast Guard to obtain additional ships, boats and people to patrol and protect the Puget Sound.

As part of last year's defense supplemental appropriations bill, I added funds to locate a new marine safety and security team in Puget Sound.

I'm pleased to report that unit will be commissioned this summer.

I also wrote to Admiral Fargo, the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, and got him to agree to provide additional boats to protect our naval facilities.

In addition, I've used my position as the chairman of this 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.

Two weeks ago in the Senate, I held a hearing on cargo security.

Today's hearing will examine the unique challenges we face in improving port security in our region.

What we learn here today will help inform the debate that is taking place in Washington, D.C. and will help me in my oversight responsibilities.

As I begin this hearing, I want to emphasize the critical role our ports play.

Simply put, they are the life blood of our region's economy.

Our ports move billions of dollars of goods each day and generate tens of thousands of good paying jobs that support families throughout the state.

Their economic impact affects virtually every interest in our state -- from mom and pop businesses like restaurants and gas stations -- to our major manufacturing firms like Boeing.

Our ports have remained competitive because of the hard work of the entire port community the shipping industry, their workers, and the federal and state agencies that oversee port activities.

Together, they have ensured that goods move rapidly to meet the ever-increasing demands of customers both in the U.S. and Asia.

In the wake of the events of September 11th, our port community and government agencies must now rise to yet another challenge -- the challenge of eliminating the security vulnerabilities in our ports.

Our response must be comprehensive. And it must not endanger the progress we have made in improving productivity and efficiency.

All partners in the port community will have to step up and take responsibility if we are to eliminate the weak links in our security regime without pushing cargo -- and jobs -- to other ports or other nations.

In the Puget Sound area, we have to tackle some unique security challenges. 1.8 million containers pass through this region each year.

We have important Department of Defense installations that share our waterfront, and we have the largest ferry system in the United States. Our solutions will have to take those unique factors into account.

We know a great deal about the number of containers that enter Puget Sound, and we know a great deal about how to move those containers efficiently. But we don't know as much about who packed those containers. And we don't know as much about what's inside them.

Some of the things we do know, however, are disturbing.

We know that a certain number of containers that pass through our ports each year originate in countries that have known terrorist activity. And we know that more than 90 percent of the containers that enter our ports are never inspected.

At the same time, we know that subjecting a much higher percentage of containers to physical inspection could seriously hamper the efficiency of the ports.

So it is both urgent and essential that we address new solutions to improving the security of our ports.

Those solutions will require new burdens that will have to be shared by all the partners in the port community - the federal government, the state government, shippers, operators, shipping companies, and all the people that work in and around the port community each day.

We need to remember that intelligence and communication are critical to any effort to improve security. Intelligence and communication must flow from the bottom up -- not just from the top down. The long shore workers, the operating engineers, the electrical workers, and all the other members of the marine labor community are the eyes and ears that monitor what moves into our ports every day.

At the same time, leadership must come from our federal intelligence agencies and the Coast Guard in determining which ships -- and which containers -- require added scrutiny.

Just as all partners will have to share the burden of improving security, I'm sure that all partners will also have to share the costs. How we split the costs is a critical issue that the Bush Administration and this subcommittee will have to address.

In this regard, I'm very concerned about the Administration's budget for the upcoming fiscal year. For the Coast Guard, I am pleased to say, the Administration has requested a significant increase in funding to address enhanced readiness to tackle the port security challenge.

Unfortunately -- as we uncovered in a hearing earlier this year -- the Administration's budget assumes that the Coast Guard's increased work on port security will come at the expense of other critically important missions such as marine environmental protection and fisheries enforcement.

I'm also disturbed by how the Administration's budget handles direct grants for port security. The Administration's budget zeros out funding for direct grants to our nation's ports to enhance security.

Last year, we provided almost $100 million to help ports meet these security needs. At the time, we envisioned it as an initial down payment. Now, the Administration wants us to abandon the program. So I hope our subcommittee can engage the Administration in a more productive dialog on how we should allocate -- not just the responsibilities -- but the resources that will be necessary to improve the security of our ports, both here in Puget Sound, and across the nation.

It's clear that we have some critical issues to discuss today.

I again want to thank all of our witnesses and everyone else who has come here today to help improve our security and maintain the critical economic benefits that our ports provide.

We have many witnesses who we need to hear from today, so I must ask all witnesses to limit their statements to five minutes.

I want all the witnesses to know that their full written statements will be included in the record.

I also want to let the public know that we will leave the record open for any individuals who want to submit written testimony on the topic.

With that, I'd like to recognize Rear Admiral Erroll Brown, our Coast Guard District Commander for the Pacific Northwest.