SAFE Port update introduced in Senate
New legislation submitted in the U.S. Senate on Thursday would reauthorize for five years several maritime security programs that are key components of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's layered strategy of using risk segmentation to focus limited inspection resources on cargo about which it has adverse information or not enough information.
It would also increase funding for port security grants.
The SAFE Port Reauthorization Act of 2011 would extend statutory support for the Automated Targeting System used to identify high-risk cargo, the Container Security Initiative for overseas inspection of certain high-risk cargo through bilateral relationships with overseas customs administrations, and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, an industry partnership program to secure end-to-end supply chains.
The bill was introduced by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Patty Murray, D-Wash., who are the original authors of the 2006 SAFE Port Act.
The senators propose giving the ATS $33.5 million in fiscal year 2012, rising to $37.7 million in 2016. CSI funding would increase from $171.8 million next year to $193 million in 2016. Funding for C-TPAT would increase from $66.4 million in 2012 to $74.7 million after five years.
Last year, the Department of Homeland Security sought to cut $51 million from CSI because it said the program had matured to the point where fewer overseas personnel are necessary. The determination is based on the ability to conduct necessary analytics work at the National Targeting Center-Cargo and reach out to foreign customs authorities as needed to request inspections. The Obama administration's 2012 budget request calls for ceasing CSI operations in some ports.
Customs officers were stationed at 58 ports at the beginning of the year.
The White House also asked Congress last year to provide $51 million for C-TPAT, $12 million less than in 2009, on the grounds that it had completed establishment of seven nationwide offices and didn't need as much money for startup expenses. Funding levels stayed the same this fiscal year because Congress never passed any appropriation bills for Cabinet departments, including Homeland Security. In 2012, the administration seeks $45 million for C-TPAT, with additional savings attributed to consolidation of support functions and $600,000 in administrative reductions in line with the department's efficiency initiative.
But the program may need more resources again after CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin on Wednesday expressed a desire to take the program from 10,000 member companies to 40,000 within five years.
The legislation would strengthen C-TPAT by providing new benefits for companies that voluntarily agree to meet or exceed minimum standards for access control, conveyance security and other operational areas, and use vendors that follow similar procedures. Benefits proposed in the legislation include offering security training to industry participants and setting up a mechanism for sharing classified and unclassified information on supply chain vulnerabilities and threats with Tier 3 participants and others with appropriate clearances.
Industry representatives say CBP often doesn't reciprocate with timely information about potential problems, which would be helpful for them to take precautionary steps.
The bill also would add more rigor to the program by allowing CBP to conduct unannounced inspections to ensure security practices are implemented as planned. Companies that had previous deficiencies identified would be candidates for such checks. Validation visits have occurred on a periodic basis and are scheduled far in advance.
The senators also provided DHS more flexibility in implementing a requirement in the first SAFE Port Act to set up a system for scanning 100 percent of cargo before entering the United States. The original law provided several conditions that needed to be in place before moving ahead with such a system, including the technical capability and physical space to deploy the detection machines. It was superseded by the 9/11 Act in 2007 that set a hard deadline for 100 percent scanning of boxes, but gave the DHS secretary ways to opt out of the requirement.
The reauthorization bill would waive the requirement that every box be scanned if C-TPAT companies are revalidated every four years, CSI is operational at all high-risk ports and all high-risk containers are inspected prior to arrival.
The bill would also reauthorize the port security grant program for five years at $300 million per year, as included in President Obama's budget. The senators said they lowered the annual amount from the current authorization of $400 million in recognition of the nation's budget difficulties.
The Department of Homeland Security allocated $288 million for port security grants in fiscal year 2010.
The bill also enhances the America’s Waterway Watch Program to promote voluntary reporting of suspected terrorist activity or suspicious behavior against a vessel, facility, port, or waterway. The proposed legislation incorporates protections for citizens from frivolous lawsuits when they report, in good faith, suspicious behavior that may indicate potential terrorist activity.
Research to examine the use of composite materials in cargo containers and to deploy next generation sensors is also supported in the bill.
The Retail Leaders Industry Association and the American Waterways Operators are among five groups on the records for supporting the legislation, according to a statement from the senators. ' Eric Kulisch