Following months of repeated efforts to ensure funding to secure the nation's ports, U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings offered an amendment to the Homeland Security appropriations legislation Wednesday that would have increased the port security-specific funding to $450 million without adding to the total cost of the bill. The amendment, which directed $300 million in critical infrastructure funding specifically to port security and added to the $150 million already in the bill, was defeated 50-48 largely along party lines.
"With this amendment, I attempted to help meet the ports' needs while staying within the cost of the overall bill," said Hollings, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "This should have been an easy amendment for everyone to support in that every Republican and every Democrat voted for the port security authorization bill
. And we all voted for the Budget Resolution to provide $1 billion for port security each year for the next 2 years. But when it comes time to provide the money, this Senate can't even deliver a fraction of what our ports need. This was not a frivolous request. This was funding for a dire and urgent need."
With ports nationwide facing a variety of new security requirements under the Maritime and Transportation Security Act - which Hollings authored and was signed into law in November 2002 - funding has remained a significant obstacle to speedy implementation of upgraded safeguards. Among its provisions, the new law requires every port and every waterfront facility to submit a security plan for Coast Guard approval by Jan 1, 2004, and the plan must be approved and implemented by July 2004 to continue operating.
The Coast Guard has estimated that it will require over $7 billion over the next 10 years for private and public port facilities to meet the baseline mandates in the new federal port security laws. The Administration has provided less than $500 million for port security over
the last 2 years.
Hollings continued, "I have repeatedly tried to get this Congress and this Administration to get serious about port security and commit the funds. But when we looked at the Homeland Security appropriations bill, the administration didn't request any funding for port security. That's not just unacceptable, it's foolish. Our ports are vulnerable, the threat risk is well-known, and the consequences of terrorist attack would be catastrophic."
The underlying appropriations legislation does include an amendment by Hollings to provide the Coast Guard with $40 million to fund the infrastructure required to track vessels in the maritime system. The funding, which was approved during Committee consideration of the bill, will help create the first system in the U.S. that allows Coast Guard and law enforcement to actively track the movement of maritime vessels and ensure that no vessel presents a national security risk. The tracking system was a key component of the Maritime and Transportation Security Act.