Administration Budgeting Antics Could Imperil Container Security Initiative at Ports of Seattle/Tacoma

May 13 2003

Millions of dollars promised to ports could be diverted elsewhere

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has admitted that a container security initiative for the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma could be imperiled because of budget antics in the TSA bureaucracy. Congress has approved $58 million for Operation Safe Commerce (OSC), a pilot project which would improve security and efficiency at the nation’s three largest container load centers (including Seattle/Tacoma), but today the Bush Administration said the funding could be spent elsewhere.

Sen. Patty Murray developed and authored Operation Safe Commerce to increase domestic port security. OSC would help U.S. authorities monitor and track containers from their foreign port of origin, into a U.S. port, and onto the containers’ final destination. Today, only 2 percent of the 6 million containers entering U.S. ports each year are inspected.

But since Congress approved the first half of this port security funding in July of 2002, the Administration has sent none of it to the ports. In the ten months since Congress acted, another 5 million containers have come into U.S. ports. Congress approved the second half of the funding in February, 2003.

Today, for the first time, the Administration’s representatives acknowledged that millions of dollars could be denied to the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, and instead be “reprogrammed” to make up for shortfalls elsewhere in the TSA bureaucracy.

Murray asked TSA Administrator Loy, “can you assure me that all $58 million will be spent on this [OSC] and it won’t be diverted to some other program under TSA?”

Admiral Loy responded, “I cannot assure you of that. …[T]he structural shortfall for the TSA budget in ’03 offers us, unfortunately, the challenge of looking for funds in places that have the potential for reprogramming.”

“This is unacceptable,” said Murray. “America’s ports remain vulnerable to a terrorist attack, and an incident at one of our ports would have a devastating impact on our safety and U.S. economy. We cannot ignore port security, and I will continue to work to make sure this funding goes where it’s needed – to our ports.”

In addition to Seattle/Tacoma the other ports awaiting funding under Operation Safe Commerce are New York/New Jersey and Los Angeles/Long Beach. Combined, those three load centers take in more than three-quarters of all container traffic entering the U.S.