WASHINGTON – When Congress passed “landmark” port security legislation this month, it left out an important detail — the money.
The Port and Maritime Security Bill establishes a “family of plans” for preventing and combating terrorism at seaports, said Susan Turner, director of government relations at the American Association of Port Authorities. It also establishes a federal grant procedure for ports that cannot afford to pay for the upgrades.
But Congress only authorized the use of funds, and did not appropriate any specific amount for the port upgrades. That amount will not be determined until President Bush releases his fiscal 2004 budget.
Officials at the Port of Baltimore said that while they welcome the bill, they wonder exactly how much good it will do them, and when.
The port said it does not have money for needed security improvements. It asked for $12 million in emergency appropriations from the federal government in June, but got $3.26 million instead.
“We appreciated what we got, but it’s certainly not the end-all be-all of making the port as secure as we wanted it to be,” said Richard Scher, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation. “By no means at all was that enough to secure everything, no means at all.”
Scher said the port will apply for a piece of the estimated $125 million for port security in the pending 2003 Transportation Appropriations Bill and would “actively pursue” funding under the new port security bill.
The security bill, which the president is expected to sign into law, requires that the Coast Guard assess every port’s security strengths and weaknesses and develop plans to increase their capabilities, Turner said. The plans will be submitted to the new Department of Homeland Security, she said.
Turner said the bill’s effectiveness remains to be seen, because any antiterrorism measures depend entirely on the Coast Guard’s findings and how much money is appropriated.
“It is hard to determine what the exact cost and impact will be because it is based on each port’s assessment,” Turner said.
Scher said the Baltimore port needs more guard dogs, scanners, upgraded security gates and double the amount of manpower at patrol terminals.
Maryland Port Administration spokeswoman Judi Scioli said the number of scanners and amount of security personnel at the gates were increased with the June grant, but more is necessary to maintain the new level of safety.
“It’s very expensive to keep this kind of enhanced security,” Scioli said. “It’s a legitimate expense and ports are unable to bear it. We need appropriations to cover it.”
Turner said Congress has estimated $100 million to $150 million in grant money will be available under the bill, but that amount is “not nearly enough.” Ports nationwide requested about $700 million during the June grant application round, she said.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., said the Port of Baltimore is a linchpin of Maryland’s economic success and the money should be made available as soon as possible.
“It is imperative that the Bush administration move forward in its next budget submission with the needed monies to fund these security measures,” Sarbanes said in a prepared statement last week.
The bill also requires that port personnel with security clearances undergo background checks and hold transportation security cards issued by the government.
The Coast Guard must also maintain a cargo tracking, identification and screening system for containers shipped to and from the United States. But Scher said the bill also passes more responsibility for tracking ships, cargo manifests and passenger lists from the federal government to the ports.
But more security requires more money. Scher said Baltimore intends to be “as aggressive as we can” in trying to get that federal funding.
“The competition is just going to be unreal,” he said. “The minute applications can be received, we’ll be filing. We’re going to be right there. You can bet on that.”