In what's beginning to seem as predictable as the tides, the nation's ports are in an uproar about the funding allotted to them in the upcoming year's federal budget. No sooner had President Bush unveiled the 2006 federal budget proposal last month than the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) issued a strongly worded statement expressing its concerns over funding shortfalls. Specifically, AAPA leaders charged that funding for waterway and seaport security fell far below what U.S. public ports need for implementing new, federally mandated seaport security programs. They also claimed the proposed budget would significantly underfund needed deep-draft dredging projects.
If that's starting to sound familiar, it's because the group issued similar warnings about funding shortfalls in 2002, 2003 and 2004. But this time around, it appears that the ports have new cause for concern. The Bush plan calls for eliminating the Department of Homeland Security's Port Security Grant Program and merging it into a new program that combines the security needs of seaports with those of trains, trucks, buses and other public transit systems. It also cuts funding allocated to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Civil Works program, which includes deep-draft dredging projects.
Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the AAPA, made no secret of his disappointment with the proposed budget. "Protecting America's marine facilities from acts of terrorism must be a top administration priority and a shared responsibility between the ports, government and private industry," he said. Ports are required to comply with federal security initiatives, he noted, but as public service entities, they don't have the option of cutting programs or eliminating services to pay for them. If federal funding falls short, ports will be forced to spend scarce resources on security instead of capital improvements, compromising their ability to keep up with growing cargo volumes.
Nagle added that the U.S. economy, the nation's safety and its national defense depend largely on how well seaports are protected and by ensuring deep-draft shipping access. "Unfortunately, the proposed federal budget the administration released [last month] literally removes port security as a separate line item and leaves gaping holes in funding for the dredging needs of U.S. ports."
It appears that the AAPA and the administration remain far apart when it comes to their notions of appropriate funding. For fiscal year 2006, AAPA urges appropriations of $735 million for deep-draft navigation operations and maintenance, at least $500 million for deep-draft construction and $10 million for new project studies. That compares with the administration's request of $607 million for harbor and channel operations and maintenance, $260 million for continuing construction and $7 million for studies.