Bush’s budget proposal
threatens sea port security


President Bush's budget proposal would eliminate a grant program for sea port security, moving it into a broader grant program.

GLOBAL shipping rules and beefed-up antiterrorism units in the Coast Guard have made Honolulu Harbor and the nation's other 360 sea ports safer in recent months, but the resources devoted to security at those ports remains inadequate. President Bush's proposed budget for fiscal 2006 reflects that failure to appreciate the continuing threat of terrorism by sea. Congressional action is needed to provide sufficient security.

The president's budget proposal would eliminate the security grant program for sea ports and create a new program in which port authorities would compete for federal dollars with trains, trucks, buses and other public transportation. The government's security effort continues to be directed at air travel and cargo.

The proposed program "ties these grants to the goal of protecting critical infrastructure based on relative risk, vulnerability and need," Jean Godwin, head of the American Association of Port Authorities, said at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the budget request for the Transportation Security Administration. "This move would pit an underfunded border protection program against underfunded transportation protection programs."

Under a post-9/11 maritime security law, ports will have to spend $5.4 billion over a 10-year period to comply with a post-9/11 maritime security law, according to Coast Guard estimates. Port authorities expect trade to double over the next 15 years, and much of their expense will be devoted to security instead of capital improvements to handle the increased cargo. Federal assistance will be needed.

"Security funding for all modes of transportation beyond aviation has been desperately lacking," said Senator Inouye, ranking Democrat on the committee. Aviation security has received 90 percent of the TSA funding while security for sea port, rail, motor carrier, hazardous-material shipment and pipeline security go begging.

Inouye and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the committee's chairman, plan to introduce a bill to refocus the priorities of the Homeland Security Department, which oversees the TSA. Stevens said chemical weapons and explosives have become bigger threats than hijackers using a plane as a weapon.

A 148-nation treaty that went into effect in July requires port facilities, stevedoring companies and owners of large ships to comply with rules aimed at detecting dangerous cargo. In December, Honolulu became the fifth U.S. port in the Pacific region to be assigned a Maritime Safety and Security Team in the Coast Guard.

Despite those efforts, Hawaii remains vulnerable to terrorism, getting 90 percent of its goods by ship. Most of the shipments to Hawaii originating in foreign countries enter the United States at West Coast ports, where only 6 percent of containers are scanned by X-ray and only 6 percent of those are then inspected by hand.

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