HOUSTON, Sept. 13, 2006 (PRIMEZONE) -- The Port of Houston Authority (PHA) today welcomed the U.S. Senate's recent 97-0 vote approving an amendment to the Port Security Improvement Act of 2006 that will provide an additional 275 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at Houston and other U.S. ports. Successfully introduced by U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the amendment raises the total number of new officers called for in the bill to 1,000 nationwide.
"The announcement of these additional Customs and Border Protection cargo inspectors is great news not only for the Port of Houston Authority but the entire Houston region," stated PHA Chairman Jim Edmonds. "These additional officers will definitely help ensure safety and security at the port and protect the free flow of trade through our facilities. They will significantly improve our ability to inspect the millions of containers that enter the U.S. annually. The port authority is fortunate to have friends like Senator Hutchison on Capitol Hill. I commend Senator Hutchison for working with all of our port security partners at the local, state and federal levels to raise the importance of port security as a national priority."
Houston's CBP region includes the Port of Houston, the 25-mile long complex of diversified public (PHA) and private facilities designed for handling general cargo, containers, grain and other dry bulk materials, project and heavy lift cargo, and other types of cargo. Houston's port ranks first in the U.S. in foreign tonnage, second in total tonnage, and tenth largest in the world. The world's second largest petrochemical complex is also part of the port. Other ports in the region (ranked by foreign tonnage) include Texas City (8th), Freeport (12th), and Galveston (49th). Galveston also ranks 7th in the U.S. in the number of cruise passenger embarkations.
The three airports of the Houston Airport System -- Bush Intercontinental, Hobby, and Ellington Field -- are also the responsibility of the Port of Houston Region. These facilities combined served 48 million passengers in 2005. It is the fourth largest multi-airport system in the U.S. and the sixth largest in the world. The airport system provides direct service to 73 international destinations. Additionally, over 900 freight forwarders currently use the services of the new Bush Intercontinental Airport Cargo Center.
Increased cargo dwell times at Houston's seaport facilities and longer international passenger wait times at Bush-IAH are among several indicators that reflect the severe understaffing in the CBP's Houston region. The CBP is currently forced to dispatch some of its seaport staff to process air passengers at Bush Intercontinental from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily, leaving a short supply of agents to process seaport cargo.
The PHA, the Houston Airport System, the Greater Houston Partnership and other organizations have estimated that the CBP needs a minimum of 150 additional officers (at a cost of approximately $22.8 million) for the Houston region to handle the current requirements. According to these organizations, however, this level of staffing does not take into account increased staffing needs for future projects or growth, or the need for administrative and agricultural specialists.
"Staffing for the CBP in the Houston region needs to be increased significantly to provide proper cargo and passenger security at seaports and airports," stated PHA Chairman Edmonds. "There is an economic impact too. The less dwell time cargo has on a seaport terminal, the more cargo that terminal can handle on the same acreage. Therefore, proper staffing would make facilities more efficient and will allow ports to attract more cargo, using the existing infrastructure thus increasing the return-on-investment for the taxpayer. An understaffed CBP cannot efficiently and timely inspect cargo and at the same time ensure the safety of the public."