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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – On Monday, March 15, U.S. Senator Patty Murray joined with port, security, and trade leaders at the Port of Tacoma celebrate the arrival of the first container shipment tracked by Operation Safe Commerce. Murray created the initiative to increase security at our nation’s ports. In her remarks, she highlighted the importance of keeping our ports safe for industry, U.S. consumers, and the U.S. economy.

Senator Murray’s Remarks Follow:

I want to thank all of the leaders who are here today for your commitment to making our cargo system and our country more secure. Today we are launching a new era of port security, one that uses smart technology to protect our ports from those who would do us harm. And I’m proud to join with many of the partners who have made today’s celebration possible.

Operation Safe Commerce is a New, Smart Approach

As you’ve seen, Operation Safe Commerce creates an electronic shield around the cargo containers that enter our ports every day. It bolsters our security, and it improves the supply chain that American families and businesses rely on.

We can’t search every container that comes into our country. With more than 6 million a year, the haystack is just too big. So instead we’re using technology and intelligence to make the haystack smaller and show us which containers pose a security risk. Simply put, we’re creating a better way to protect our ports, our communities and our economy, and I’m proud to join with all of you in launching this new era. What we’re doing is important for us here in Puget Sound but also for our entire country. That’s because Operation Safe Commerce lays the foundation for a new national port security regime that is both secure and efficient.

There are tremendous challenges facing everyone involved in the global supply chain. Operation Safe Commerce allows us to test and learn from new ways to track cargo from the point of origin overseas to the point of distribution here in the U.S. As you’ve seen in these demonstrations, Operation Safe Commerce lets us test different security methods in different environments. Today, it’s allowing our nation's three largest ports to monitor and track cargo. The lessons it shows us will be applied throughout our entire port system. Ultimately, Operation Safe Commerce will create an international standard for trade.

The Importance of Trade

Like many of you who grew up in this area, I learned about the importance of trade and global commerce at a young age. When I was growing up, my dad ran a dime store on Main Street in Bothell, Washington. Several times a year, my dad would go to Seattle for trade fairs. At those trade fairs, he bought the products that were sold in the store. I knew that the price of those imports affected our family’s ability to put food on the table. I’ve never forgotten that our quality of life depends on our ability to trade with other countries.

Today, Washington state is the most trade-dependent state in the nation. International trade supports good jobs throughout Washington and is the lifeblood of our economy. In fact, the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma form the third-busiest container load center in the nation – supporting thousands of good-paying family wage jobs. It’s hard to understate the economic value of our container system. The United States receives more than six million containers and about $750 Billion worth of cargo every year.

Our ports have remained competitive because of the hard work of the entire port community, including the shipping industry, its workers, and federal and state agencies. Together, we have all worked to ensure that goods move rapidly to meet the demands of customers in the U.S. and around the globe.

Port Security is Critical after September 11th

As you know, after the attacks on September 11th, commercial air traffic was grounded. In addition to the horrible human toll of the attacks, we were also hit with the enormous economic costs of the ground-stop.

That hurt our economy, especially in the Pacific Northwest where our aviation industry experienced massive layoffs.

In the United States Senate, we began exploring areas that are vulnerable to terrorist threats. And, for obvious reasons, port security was high on my list. I’m concerned that a terrorist attack launched on – or through – our ports could shut down commerce for days or weeks and could have immense costs.

I’m reminded of the challenge we face every time I come home to Washington. My office is located on the 29th floor of the Jackson Federal building. From my window, I can see the Port of Seattle, container ships, and all the economic activity they generate. I can also see the many people who live and work near the Port. Tacoma is no different. I want to make sure that both the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma – and all of America’s ports are safe.

That’s why I’ve used my positions on the Homeland Security and Transportation Appropriations Subcommittees to review our government's security efforts and hold hearings on port and cargo security.

Throughout this process, I learned that we don't always know enough about what's in the containers that enter our ports, where they’ve come from, or where they're going.

Some of the things that we do know, however, are disturbing. We know that some of the 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. It was clear we needed a system to help track and monitor container cargo from the point of origin to the ultimate destination.

But it’s not possible to physically inspect every container – so I knew we had to work smarter, not just harder. We needed a coordinated approach between federal agencies, the ports, shippers, operators, and shipping companies. That’s why I wrote and funded this innovative program.

Twenty months ago, I secured $28 million to test supply-chain cargo security at the nation's three largest container ports, including the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma. I knew it was going to take new thinking, new technology, and new partnerships. And, it wasn’t going to be easy.

But almost immediately, these partners began working on agreements and reviewing technologies. I want to point out that we didn’t tell the ports how to do it. We didn’t pick a specific technology or system in Washington, D.C. Instead, we said “work together, come up with your best ideas, and we’ll provide funding so you can test them out.” I was able to follow that initial funding with an additional $30 million to ensure we had a robust test of 19 different supply chains, employing many different methods and technologies chosen by our partners.

Unfortunately, as we worked to create a new standard in supply chain security, the Administration was scheming to use the $58 million to fill holes in their budget plan. After some tense meetings and phone calls with the highest levels of the Administration, I was able to convince them to release the funding, so we could get started. As I said, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

That’s why I’m so proud to be here celebrating the arrival of the first Operation Safe Commerce container. This is a great day for our ports, shippers, communities and economy. It wouldn’t have been possible without all of the time, effort and determination of the partners here today. Operation Safe Commerce is a model for how our nation can improve port security, and I'm proud that my home ports are on the cutting edge of this effort that will create a new standard for cargo bound for U.S. ports. And, because shippers value safety, security and efficiency, Seattle and Tacoma will become even more attractive to shippers worldwide.

This is an excellent example of industry coming together to share experiences and best practices. So, thank you again to all of the partners in this effort for coming together to help improve security and efficiency in the global supply chain. It is because of your commitment and your hard work, that Operation Safe Commerce is now a reality and will ultimately help make our communities safer.

I’m looking forward to working with you in the years to come.