Port security grant program to get full funding

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Early last month the future of port security looked dim when The Associated Press reported that port security grant programs, that are part of the fiscal 2008 omnibus spending package would be eliminated by the Bush administration. But with President George W. Bush signing off on a $555 billion domestic spending bill, it appears that it is smooth sailing for port security funding.

The possibility that port security funding would be eliminated from the bill initially arose in December. At that time, the AP reported that White House budget documents indicated that while the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has given $23 billion to states and local communities to fight terrorism since September 11, 2001, the administration was not convinced the money was well-spent and thought the nation's highest risk cities had largely satisfied their security needs.

However with the President's approval, the federal Port Security Grant programs will receive the full $400 million that was originally requested in the Security and Accountability for Every (SAFE) Port Act that was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in October. The Port Security Grant program assists public ports in funding marine facility security improvements and protects maritime facilities from terrorist attacks.

"This is great news," American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) President Kurt Nagle told Logistics Management. "To reach this full funding level is a significant milestone, and we in the industry and the AAPA have been urging for and advocating for this type of funding for several years."

Nagle added that it is critically important to significantly enhance the security at our port facilities, which are obviously a critical link in border and overall security processes in the U.S.

What's more, this funding represents a major increase over what the White House proposed in its original Fiscal Year 2008 budget, which called for a total of $420 million for ports-based initiatives, with $201.2 million allocated for the Port Security Grant program.

Also included in the approved bill is $8.1 million to fully fund the Transportation Security Administration's biometric card reader pilot projects that are part of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), a biometric-based ID to be used by port workers to ensure that individuals who pose a security threat do not gain access to U.S. ports. TWIC enrollment is currently underway at nearly 50 ports, according to DHS.

"It is key that TWIC is [fully funded]," said Captain Joseph Ahlstrom, professor of maritime transportation at SUNY Maritime College in Bronx, N.Y. "TWIC is going to be the single biggest event in the maritime industry in the next year."

Nagle agreed with Ahlstrom, saying that it is vital to keep TWIC funding intact, given the process that has been made in recent months at U.S. ports with background and credential checks that are part of the enrollment process. The implementation of the biometric reader technology at port terminals, Nagle said, can be viewed as the second phase of the TWIC roll-out.

And by getting TWIC up and running in a timely fashion, due to the increased port security funding levels, Nagle said it will augment the flow of cargo in and out of port terminals.

"As public agencies, our ports are financially strained," said Nagle. "Without this funding for TWIC, ports would have even less money to focus on their infrastructure-related needs, in terms of being able to accommodate increasing trade volumes. By having this federal help on the port security side, ports can then use their limited resources on other areas like infrastructure, which makes a big difference from an efficiency and capacity standpoint to better accommodate shippers' needs."

Ahlstrom also noted that removing port security funding would have been a step backwards, as lots of planning, time, and preparation has been invested -- adding that with no attacks on U.S. soil since September 11, it appears to be working.

Other notable port security-related appropriations included in the bill are $13 million for the Secure Freight Initiative and Global Trade Exchange programs, as well as necessary funding for the continued operation of the container scanning pilot program which is authorized by the SAFE Port Act.