Senate OKs Security Improvement Act of 2006

Friday, September 15, 2006
The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) applauded the unanimous vote in the U.S. Senate to pass the Port Security Improvement Act of 2006 (H.R. 4954), welcoming the legislation as a comprehensive plan to improve maritime cargo and facility security and maintain an efficient flow of commerce through America’s ports.

“Representatives of several Senate committees took components of the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act (S. 2459) and the Public Transportation Terrorism Prevention Act of 2006 (S. 2791) to develop an important new bill that promises to enhance port and cargo security at home, strengthen the federal Port Security Grant program to help U.S. ports thwart terrorism at their marine facilities, and reduce the potential for terrorists or weapons to reach our shores via maritime commerce,” said Kurt Nagle, AAPA’s president and CEO. Nagle credited Senators Susan Collins (R-ME; chair, Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Government Affairs), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT; ranking Democrat, Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Government Affairs), and Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chair and ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, as the key drivers for negotiating the final bill so it could be considered on the Senate floor.

Noting that the Port Security Improvement Act is the Senate’s substitute to the Security and Accountability For Every (SAFE) Port Act that the House passed last May in a vote of 421-2, Mr. Nagle praised the authors and sponsors of both bills “for their courage and leadership at a time when America’s ports need them most.” The bills will now go to a House-Senate conference committee before going to the President for his signature. AAPA is especially supportive of the portions of the two bills that authorize $400 million a year for the Port Security Grant program, prioritize grant applications on the basis of facility risk, permit applications from any entity covered by an area Maritime Transportation Security Plan and provide allowances for multi-year funding of grant projects.

“We’ve advocated for these provisions ever since the Port Security Grant program was introduced after 9/11,” said Mr. Nagle. “A key priority is the appropriations authorization language in these bills. The Port Security Grant program has been woefully underfunded since its inception, providing only about one-fifth of eligible port facility security investments identified in six rounds of grant applications. Compared to the more than $24 billion that airports have received since 9/11 in federal security assistance, seaports—which handle 99 percent of our country’s overseas freight volumes—appear to be a poor stepchild.” AAPA also strongly supports the Port Security Improvement Act’s provision to provide a deadline for implementing the federal Transportation Worker Identity Credential (TWIC) and its provision calling for three pilot projects to test the TWIC biometric card readers at maritime facilities. AAPA is concerned that biometric card readers—devices that confirm the identity of card holders, such as through a fingerprint scan—have not been extensively tested in the maritime environment. Without proper planning and evaluation, significant problems could occur with the devices, slowing down cargo movement and putting additional financial burdens on ports and their facility operators.

In the area of cargo security, both bills also authorize and strengthen many on-going cargo security programs which AAPA supports, including the Container Security Initiative and C-TPAT (Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism). Additionally, this legislation provides funding for Coast Guard-coordinated port security training programs, which are an important element in helping prevent, respond to and recover from threats, including terrorism, natural disasters and other emergencies.

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