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02/02/2005 | Analysis: Senate hearing on homeland security puts protecting seaports in focus

Martin Edwin Andersen

Critique offered by think tank analysts likely to be taken into account when debating new federal budget

 

WASHINGTON—A hearing held last week by the newly-named Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee provided a useful perspective from which to view port security and the priority it will receive in the president’s forthcoming budget message.

At the committee’s first hearing of the 109th Congress, held Jan. 26, Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, noted that port security remains the country’s “greatest vulnerability.”

And even though the focus of the hearing was the serious management hurdles still faced by the Department of Homeland Security two years after its creation, the need for a more coherent strategy for addressing port security issues was a common theme expressed by the panel of think-tank expert witnesses.

The lack of sufficient resources for port security was one of the themes hammered home in the witness testimony.

Stephen E. Flynn, the retired U.S. Coast Guard commander now at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the committee that the department’s “first order of business should have been making adequate resources available to overcoming a decade or more of neglect” that had left the maritime service and other DHS legacy agencies “barely able to complete their pre-9/11 non-security missions, never mind their new security mandates.”

“The Coast Guard is long overdue in replacing its ancient fleet of cutters and aircraft and modernizing its obsolete shore-based communications system,” Flynn said in a prepared statement.

“The stepped-up patrolling requirements attendant with the post-9/11 homeland security and port security mission has only made the need for recapitalization all the more urgent as these aged platforms deteriorate at an accelerated rate.”

The Acting DHS Inspector General, Richard L. Skinner, also weighed in with both department advances as well as some criticism on how port security issues were being handled.

Noting that in 2002 and again in 2003, ABC News had been able to slip depleted uranium—potentially a critical weapon-of-mass-destruction component—undetected through seaports into the United States, Skinner reported that his office had issued a September 2004 classified report citing “several weaknesses” in the container inspection process.

DHS Customs and Border Protection “has since enhanced its ability to screen targeted containers for radioactive emissions by deploying more sensitive technology at its seaports, revising protocols and procedures, and improving training of CBP personnel.”

During Fiscal 2005, Skinner added, a follow-up audit will be conducted by his office “to determine to what extent CBP has a complete and workable plan for deploying and effectively operating radiation portal monitors at major U.S. seaports, and how the new technologies that CBP is deploying will impact operations at the ports.”

Skinner also pointed to both “the deteriorating readiness” of the Coast Guard’s fleet assets as a “significant” barrier to “improve and sustain its mission performance in the future.”

Skinner repeated earlier criticism of the DHS port security grant program, saying that “at least three rounds of grants, totaling $560 million, (were) without definitive national priorities for securing the seaport infrastructure of the nation.”

“Poor integration of critical asset information meant that port security grant award decisions were made without sufficient information about our national priorities,” he added.

There are two “challenges that DHS cannot directly control and instead must call on the President and the Congress for assistance,” noted Michael A. Wermuth, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation.

The first, Wermuth said, is the lack of “robust strategic planning and analysis capabilities in the Department … (a) deficiency … clearly revealed in the context of border and transportation security and in other areas as well.

“The second major challenge,” he added, “is the lack of performance metrics and the inability to tell what works and what doesn’t.”

The critique offered by the think tank analysts is likely to be taken into account in shaping and informing Capitol Hill reaction to the president’s new budget and its homeland security priorities. 

So, too, will the comments by two of the senators in attendance at the meeting.

“The truth of the matter,” said Sen. Pete V. Dominici, R-N.M., a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, “is that we can’t afford to be a risk-free America.”

Added Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the outgoing Appropriations chairman: “I don’t think there’s going to be more money (for homeland security). As a matter of fact, I know there’s not going to be more money.”

Martin Edwin Andersen can be reached via Mick_Andersen@portsecuritynews.com

Copyright © 2005 Port Security News

Port Security News (Estados Unidos)

 



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