The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) lost no time in commending Congress for passing the Security and Accountability for Every (SAFE) Port Act of 2006. But now, just weeks after the law's enactment, the group is wondering whether its celebration was premature.
The legislation authorizes $400 million in federal Port Security Grant (PSG) funding for each of the next five years to help increase security for the maritime transportation system. However, in the Department of Homeland Security's fiscal year 2007 appropriations bill just passed by Congress, only about half of the PSG funding authorized in the SAFE Port Act ($210 million) was actually appropriated.
Kurt Nagle, the AAPA's president and CEO, says that helping secure U.S. public port facilities—which handle 99 percent of the country's overseas imports and exports—must be made a higher priority within the federal budget. "[W]e're gratified that Congress recognizes it needs to have a greater financial partnership with U.S. ports to pay for critical seaport security measures," he says. "Yet, for this upcoming fiscal year, dramatic differences remain between the amount Congress recommended for port security and what it will actually fund."
In an effort to bring funding up to the level authorized for port security grants, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.V.) had proposed an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill that would have provided an additional $190 million from unspent FY 2006 funds. But that effort failed when a House-Senate conference committee dropped that amendment from the final bill.
Nagle says that AAPA and its member ports are "troubled" that Congress decided to appropriate only about half of the money it authorized for port facility security grants for fiscal 2007. He added that port security was considered a top priority by both the administration and Congress a few months ago during consideration of the Dubai Ports World/P&O transaction, but they missed an opportunity to make a real difference on the issue with the DHS appropriations legislation.
"It's important that the next annual spending bill provide the full $400 million for the Port Security Grant program to help ports pay to install TWIC card readers and other terrorism prevention programs at their facilities," says Nagle.