Murray Asks Why Port Security Funding is Still in Washington, DC Instead of Washington State

Mar 06 2003

Administration must live up to responsibility of protecting ports, American public

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today joined her Senate colleagues Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Ernest Hollings (D-SC) to urge President Bush to live up to his word and strengthen port and border security.

Murray emphasized the President's failure to release port security funds for the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma that was approved by Congress and signed by the President himself over eight months ago. The Administration committed to release roughly $9 million to Washington's ports last Friday, February 28th, but now says the money won't be sent until June.

Murray's remarks follow.

"My colleagues are raising important concerns about real and potential threats to our homeland security through our ports.

They point out what the President has failed to do in requesting port security funds for this year and next year.

I'd like to talk about what the President has failed to do after Congress gave him the money to do it last year.

We have spent decades building our port infrastructure and procedures around economic efficiency. But on September 11th, we tragically learned the need to realign our port system around both efficiency and security.

More than 6 million cargo containers enter the U.S. each year, 1.8 million of which come through the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.

With fewer than one in fifty containers being inspected by hand, our challenge is knowing for certain what's in each container, where it came from, and whether it's been tampered with en route.

As a result of hearings I chaired on port and cargo security last year, I wrote and funded a new initiative called Operation Safe Commerce.

This pilot program will allow our nation's three largest container ports – which are New York/New Jersey; Los Angeles/Long Beach; and Seattle/Tacoma – which handle 75 percent of the nation's container traffic - to monitor cargo from its point of origin into the U.S.

The program, among other things, will enable officials to inspect a container at a foreign port, lock it with an electronic seal, and then track the cargo across the ocean, into a U.S. port and on to its final destination, whether it is Spokane, Omaha or Nashville.

If our Customs officials doing port security are looking for a needle in a haystack, then Operation Safe Commerce will allow us to shrink the size of the haystack, and focus limited resources on the higher-risk cargo.

The initiative was in the 2002 Supplemental Appropriations bill the President signed on August 2nd. Congress provided $28 million and even told the President where to send the checks.

So after eight months of waiting, the Administration had committed in writing to release the funds by last Friday, February 28th. It failed to do so.

Not only did the Administration miss that mark, but we are now told it will be four more months – or almost a full year since the President signed the bill – before the money will get to our ports.

Now, we're not talking about proposed funding, or future funding, or FY 2003 funding. This money has been in the President's pocket since August of 2002. And since he signed for the funding, nearly four million more containers have entered U.S. ports.

The one thing that has not yet gotten to our ports is the $28 million that was promised to them last year, because the Administration continues to delay. What will it take to get them to act?

It's not as if the world has suddenly gotten safer since last August. Our nation was put on a high state of alert. North Korea restarted its nuclear program. And anti-aircraft batteries were stationed around the nation's capital.

The ports are ready to launch this initiative. They have contractors who are ready. But the Administration is not.

We cannot wait for another attack. And we cannot wait for North Korea to produce a nuclear weapon.

Time and again we have heard this Administration say one thing and do another. Whether it is providing the resources for our first responders to protect our communities, or deploying technology to secure our trade lanes, this Administration is putting style over substance.

Our ports need the funds they were promised, and the President needs to be accountable for his actions or inaction."