News Releases

Senator Murray to Secretary Ridge: Don’t Weaken Port Security in Seattle/Tacoma to Pay for the Administration’s Budget Mistakes

May 16 2003

Letter to Homeland Security chief urges Administration to follow Congress’s intent; spend port security funding on port security

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge expressing her dismay over the Department’s admitted intention to divert funding from port security at the nation’s largest seaports to make up for the Administration’s budget mismanagement.

For the past two years, with Murray’s leadership, Congress has provided funding to improve security at the nation’s three largest container load centers: Los Angeles/Long Beach, New York/New Jersey, and Seattle/Tacoma. Congress provided the funding for Murray’s Operation Safe Commerce [OCS], which uses technology to ensure cargo containers are secure from the time they are loaded overseas until they reach their final destination.

The Administration, however, has delayed releasing the funds, despite the urgent and obvious need to improve port security. On Tuesday, TSA Administrator Admiral James Loy told Murray at a committee hearing that the Department might spend the port security funding on other projects. Murray told Loy that was unacceptable, and today sent a letter to Loy’s boss, Secretary Ridge.

“I have no intention of quietly watching your agency divert funds that are critically needed to ensure the security of our trade lanes in order to make up for the Administration’s irresponsible actions in this area,” Murray told Secretary Ridge in a letter.

Murray also noted that the Bush Administration itself created the department’s funding shortfalls. First, the President’s budget director pressured Congress to provide $550 million less than the Senate had approved for TSA during conference negotiations on the 2002 Supplemental Appropriations bill. Later, the President refused to designate additional funding Congress had provided to him as a ‘budgetary emergency,’ a failure that cost TSA another $480.2 million. It appears the Administration is trying to make up for those two mistakes by “reprogramming” funds from the port security priority that Congress funded to other department expenses.

Senator Murray’s letter to Secretary Ridge follows.

May 16, 2003

The Honorable Tom Ridge
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Mr. Secretary:

I write to express my dismay over the recent testimony before the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee by TSA Administrator, Admiral Loy. Specifically, this past Tuesday, Admiral Loy testified that he does not intend to follow the explicit direction of Congress and spend $58 million in appropriated funds for the “Operation Safe Commerce” port security initiative.

Operation Safe Commerce is designed to address the extraordinary security vulnerability posed by the more than six million containers that enter our U.S. Seaports each year. While additional attention has been given to securing our trade lanes, the fact remains that we still have a long way to go in adequately addressing the security and safety issues related to containers entering our country. We need only to examine the affects of 9/11 on the aerospace industry to know that a terrorist attack involving a container could bring our economy to its knees, not just in a trade gateway state like mine, but across the entire nation.

Operation Safe Commerce is targeted to address this vulnerability. By providing resources to the three largest container load centers in the United States - Los Angeles/Long Beach, New York/New Jersey, and Seattle/Tacoma, which together account for 75 percent of all of the containers entering the United States - the Congress hoped to establish a system whereby our citizens and our law enforcement officials could have greater certainty in the integrity of our shipping system.

The funding for this program was provided in both the FY2002 Supplemental Appropriations Bill and the FY2003 Omnibus Appropriations Act for the purpose of deploying technology that will monitor the contents and integrity of containers from the point that they are loaded to the point they are unloaded. By using technology to ensure that whole supply chains are secure, limited federal inspection resources can be targeted on those containers that pose the greatest risk. No other program in your department addresses the challenge of container security in such a comprehensive way.

Late last year, Admiral Loy informed my office that he expected funds appropriated for Operation Safe Commerce to be obligated by the end of February 2003. Later, he informed me that funds are not likely to be obligated until this summer. Now, he has come before the Appropriations Committee to testify that TSA may disregard the clear direction of Congress by not obligating the full $58 million appropriated for this important program. My concern is not just that the Administration would so eagerly ignore the will of Congress, but that this delay and obstruction jeopardizes the deployment of a robust system to safeguard our vital economic infrastructure. This is unacceptable, and I intend to do everything in my power to see to it that the clear congressional intent is honored.

I know that you and Admiral Loy face certain financial challenges, but it is worth remembering where this shortfall originated. You will recall that the Administration originally requested $4.4 billion for the TSA in the FY2002 Supplemental Appropriations Bill. As Chair of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee I worked with my colleagues to ensure that amount was included in the Senate-passed bill. You will also recall, however, that during conference deliberations over that bill, the President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) produced a document that they delivered to the conferees recommending that the Congress reduce funding for the TSA to the House-passed level -- $3.85 billion. This late-breaking change in the Administration’s position resulted in the TSA losing hundreds of millions of dollars.

A few weeks later, President Bush refused to designate over $2.5 billion in Homeland Security funds as a budgetary emergency, resulting in the TSA losing an additional $480.2 million that was appropriated in that Supplemental Bill. This decision by the President to deny appropriated funds to the TSA came at the same time that the agency was wasting taxpayer dollars on recruitment events at resorts in Telluride, Colorado, and other unnecessary excesses that have been well documented in the Press. I have no intention of quietly watching your agency divert funds that are critically needed to ensure the security of our trade lanes in order to make up for the Administration’s irresponsible actions in this area.

The Aviation and Transportation Security Act vests the responsibility for ensuring security in all transportation modes in the TSA. I intend to see to it that the TSA follows the clear direction of this law as well as the Appropriations laws that fund your agency.

Patty Murray
United States Senator