Senator Challenges Administration on Port Security Program
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., criticized the Bush administration late last week for failing to implement Operation Safe Commerce, a container security program created by Congress in 2002.
In a sharp letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Murray said she was dismayed that the Transportation Security Administration might not spend part of the $58 million appropriated by Congress for the port security initiative to make up for funding shortfalls in other areas. She said the administration is responsible for TSA's lack of resources because it asked for hundreds of millions of dollars less than Congress was prepared to budget in the 2002 appropriations bill, and declined to tap emergency funding made available for homeland security purposes.
'I have no intention of quietly watching your agency divert funds that are critically needed to ensure the security of our trade lanes in order to make up for the administration's irresponsible actions in this area,' Murray said.
Operation Safe Commerce is a pilot program championed by Murray, designed to test promising security technology for tracking and monitoring U.S.-bound container shipments to their final destination. Congress initially appropriated $28 million last July for the initiative. The money is designated for use by the Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, New York/New Jersey and Seattle/Tacoma.
TSA Administrator James Loy told a Senate panel last week his agency is might not obligate the full $58 million in appropriated funds for the port security program. Administration officials have indicated that they plan to start awarding some of the grant money this summer.
Murray and several other Democrat senators have repeatedly questioned this year the level of port security funding, saying the administration has not done enough to protect the nation's ports from a terrorist attack. In March, Murray faulted the administration for not implementing Operation Safe Commerce. Last week John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and ranking Democrat Sen. Ernest Hollings, S.C., asked the General Accounting Office to review whether the Bush administration is properly funding port security mandates spelled out in the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002.