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09/02/2005 | New federal budget proposal has seaports “deeply concerned,” AAPA’s Nagle says

Martin Edwin Andersen

AAPA chief says proposal to lump port funding into new catch-all public transport category puts port authorities in an “even more difficult” position to vie for federal security dollars

 

WASHINGTON--The Administration’s new Fiscal ’06 budget would leave American seaports fighting for “the leftovers, even through the government recognizes they’re high-priority targets for terrorists,” Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities, said Tuesday.

Nagle said that he was particularly concerned about a recommendation made in the White House budget released yesterday that would eliminate the Department of Homeland Security's Port Security Grant Program.

Under the new proposal, the dedicated funding category would be replaced with a catch-all new DHS program that would lump seaport infrastructure security needs together with those of trains, trucks, buses and other public transit—all of which would compete for $600 million.  

The AAPA, which represents 150 deep-draft public port authorities in the Western Hemisphere together with more than 300 port industries and suppliers, maintains that at least $400 million is needed in the next year for seaport security alone.

“The Administration’s proposal for eliminating the Port Security Grant Program and rolling it into the newly–created Targeted Infrastructure Protection Program would literally remove port security as a separate line item” from the budget, Nagle pointed out.

“By rolling port security into a nebulous new program, it would pit border security needs against domestic security programs,” Nagle added.  "Port security needs have been identified as so critical that they've justified federal legislation, specific regulatory requirements, and up until now, a dedicated grant program that addresses those needs."

Speaking at the National Press Club’s “Newsmakers” program, Nagle said he was concerned that the new funding arrangement would leave public ports, which account for about a quarter of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, at a disadvantage while competing with other transportation security priorities.

“If the Administration’s recommendation is accepted to lump port security in with other domestic transportation infrastructure programs, it’ll be more difficult for marine facilities to get the assistance they need to properly defend their premises against terrorism,” Nagle added.

“Freight doesn’t vote,” he said, in allusion to the political popularity of other transportation interests on Capitol Hill.

Nagle pointed out that in the past three years, the port security grant program has contributed about $565 million in four rounds to helping public ports meet immediate security needs and to conduct necessary vulnerability assessments—just one-sixth of the money that  the seaports themselves have identified as necessary to meet critical needs.

A fifth round of grants by DHS, totaling $150 million, has yet to be released, as its Office of Domestic Preparedness and the U.S. Coast Guard finishes ironing out improved criteria for the program.  

The $150 million represented by the fifth round, Nagle added, was far less than the $400 million requested by the ports last year, despite a Coast Guard estimate that ports would have to spend at least $5.4 billion on mandated security enhancements over the next decade.  

“That's on top of the more than $3 billion (the ports) already spend annually on infrastructure improvements and operations, maintenance and personnel expenses just to keep pace with burgeoning world trade,” Nagle added.

“America’s seaports are our gateways to the world and a critical component in our nation’s economic health and national defense,” Nagle said. “To keep them operational, seaport security must be a top Administration priority.”

Nagle pointed out that U.S. ports not only support four million jobs, but they also handle more than 95 percent of the nation’s overseas trade, amounting to $2 trillion annually.

The ports, he said, also serve more than seven million cruise passengers each year, and are critical to the deployment of the armed forces, with 15 ports deemed by the Department of Defense as militarily “strategic.”

“Because seaports are public service entities,” Nagle said, “they can’t simply cut vital programs and eliminate services to pay for implementing new security plans” such as those mandated by the Coast Guard.  

“In a ‘worst-case’ scenario, some observers feel that a container-borne atomic bomb detonated in a U.S. port could wreak economic and physical havoc,” Nagle noted, pointing out that DHS Customs and Border Protection chief Robert Bonner has “argued that such an attack would lead to a halt in container traffic worldwide for some time, bringing the world economy literally to its knees.

“To help protect our nation from such a catastrophic event, defending our international seaport borders must be a shared responsibility between the ports and the federal, state and local governments, together with private industry,” Nagle said.

Martin Edwin Andersen can be reached at Mick_Andersen(at)portsecuritynews.com.

 Copyright © 2005 Port Security News

Port Security News (Estados Unidos)

 


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