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American Shipper

Bill dedicates funding stream for port security grants

Bill dedicates funding stream for port security grants

   Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., introduced companion legislation in both houses of Congress that would establish a dedicated port security grants program within the Department of Homeland Security and increase port security funding.

   President Bush’s fiscal 2006 budget removed port security grants as a separate line item and lumped seaport infrastructure security into a $600 million catch-all grant program that covers domestic transportation systems and other types of critical infrastructure. Ports are worried they would have to compete with energy, public transit and other sectors for limited funds.

   The bills would require the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness to manage a separate grant program for port security. The Port Security Grant Act of 2005 also authorizes $400 million per year for port security grants between fiscal 2007 and 2012.

   The grants are available to port authorities, terminals and other waterfront entities to help close vulnerabilities, as required by maritime security laws.

   In March, the Senate approved an amendment to its 2006 budget resolution for $150 million in funding for port security grants. The amendment, co-sponsored by Collins, restores port security funding to the 2005 level set by Congress after the Bush administration requested $46 million for the program.

   Collins chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

   More than $735 million has been appropriated for the program during the past four years — an average of $183 million per year. Many lawmakers, security experts and ports have argued that the grants issued so far are inadequate to meet the requirements of the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 — estimated by the Coast Guard at $7.3 billion over 10 years and more than $5 billion for infrastructure alone (surveillance technology, access control, communication systems and physical barriers)    — to protect ports. The Bush administration says the figures were rough estimates of what it would cost the private sector to improve their assets and not the amount for which the federal government should be responsible.

   The American Association of Port Authorities and other maritime interests have been pushing for at least $400 million in grants during the next appropriation cycle.

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