Congressional Leaders Decry Level of Port Security Funding

SAN PEDRO, Calif. -- Congressional intelligence leaders touring the Port of Los Angeles Tuesday decried the lack of federal funding for the protection of America's seaports.

Port officials gave Rep. Jane Harman, D-Venice, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a behind-the-scenes look at surveillance systems and container inspections before a discussion with longshore, rail and maritime leaders.

Harman, the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, co-sponsored a 2003 congressional bill that would have taken a slice of U.S. Customs revenue -- about $15 billion in 2003 -- to pay for port security upgrades.

Harman said she is ready to try again with the bill and that she would like to see 30 percent of customs revenue diverted to security.

"We cannot continue to spend 10 times more on airport security than we do on seaport security," she said.

Collins, chairwoman of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, worked with Harman on the recent federal intelligence overhaul. She said there was little doubt that the ports of L.A. and Long Beach would be attractive targets for terrorists, given the volume of cargo moving through here and the huge population base nearby. Yet she had no explanation for Congress' paltry port security funding levels.

"It's much more expensive to secure a seaport than an airport." Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn called for more funding, but said the ports are becoming safer each day.

"We've increased the number of port officers by 30 percent, but we need a joint container-inspection facility," he said. "We need to do more inspecting of cargo. The half-million jobs connected to the ports need to be protected." His sister, harbor-area Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn, said she hopes Harman's and Collins' visit reinforces the need for federal money.

"The ports haven't had the level of funding, of focus, of priority with the federal government that we think they should have," she said. "Every container represents a risk." Harman was particularly critical of the way the money for seaport security is divvied, with the Long Beach and L.A. ports receiving half the funds of the Port of New York in terms of dollars per container moved.

To rectify that shortcoming, Collins said she's intrigued by the concept of doling out security money based on the amount of cargo a port receives. Los Angeles and Long Beach are the two biggest ports in the nation and together handle more than 40 percent of all U.S. cargo.