Sens. ask GAO to check administrationÆs handling of port security
U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., have 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.
The senators claim the administration is not paying adequate attention to the security needs of the nation’s ports and that cargo is going unchecked due to insufficient container scanning machines.
The act called for vulnerability assessments of vessels and port facilities, coordinated government action to correct any deficiencies, the development of incident response plans, and better automatic vessel identification systems and cargo security systems.
'Based on recent briefings given to our staff, we are concerned that the Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security have failed to ensure that all requirements of the act are being executed effectively and in a timely manner as Congress intends, and that major problems have arisen in the coordination among federal agencies on various issues and the key maritime stakeholders, both at home and abroad,' the senators said in a May 12 letter to Comptroller General David Walker.
McCain, the chairman of the Commerce Committee, and Hollings requested that congressional watchdog agency examine the administration's method for conducting the vulnerability assessments and estimating the cost to correct security gaps. They also sought similar explanations for the Sea Marshall program, the Automated Vessel Identification System, maritime intelligence requirements, transportation worker identification cards, the requirement to evaluate and certify secure systems of international intermodal transportation and assessments of antiterrorism measures at foreign ports.
The Department of Homeland Security late Wednesday awarded $75 million to 'high-threat' ports nationwide, according to a news release issued by Hollings' office. The funding comes from the supplemental appropriations bill signed into law in April. An additional $35 million was set aside for radiological defense at the ports of New York and New Jersey and the Port of Charleston in South Carolina.
'While the funding awarded tonight is helpful, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the nation's port security efforts remain underfunded,' Hollings said in a statement.
Hollings and several other Democrat senators have on several occasions this year questioned the level of port security funding. Hollings lost a battle to require a user fee to help for security measures after port-related industries objected to paying what they considered an extra tax.