While in Mississippi, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff promised increased funding for port, infrastructure security.
Photo credit: AP/The Mississippi Press, William Colgin
Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff said funding to secure the nation's border and infrastructure will increase by 7 percent for 2006.
Chertoff, guest speaker at Tuesday's keel authentication ceremony at the Northrop Grumman shipyard, said the preliminary budget increases resources in vital areas.
A $34.2 billion Homeland Security budget released in February will start in October. However, some port leaders along the Gulf Coast have raised concerns that the switch from population-based grants to threat-based grants could undermine protection.
Chertoff said ports such as the Port of Pascagoula are important to the nation's infrastructure and national security. But Homeland Security officials must assess national security priorities to maximize protection.
"We're going to look at everything, ports, all kinds of infrastructure with this three-part approach that includes threat, vulnerability and possible consequences," Chertoff said.
"Port security comes in a lot of different ways," he said, describing the layers of security from cargo screening to patrols. "I think we are going to raise the level of port protection."
Meryl Chertoff, Chertoff's wife and sponsor of the national security cutter WMSL 750, wrote her initials in the keel.
The WMSL 750 is the first of eight national security cutters in the deepwater program built through the partnership of Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. It is designed to replace older equipment with advanced systems and capabilities. WMSL 750 is scheduled for introduction in spring 2007.
Chertoff said U.S. Coast Guard officers are at the front line of national security.
"This national security cutter, the keel of which we lay today, is a visible symbol of new generation of equipment that we are going to bring and provide for the men and women of the Coast Guard," Chertoff said.
Northrop Grumman Ship Systems President Philip A. Dur said shipbuilders will use this multi-mission cutter as a model for all first-in-class ships.
Mississippi leaders, including U.S. Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran and Gov. Haley Barbour, said they intend to work together with private industry and Homeland Security to make sure the nation is protected.
"We learned on 9/11 that things have changed forever," Lott said. "Today, American men and woman stand vigil all over the world fighting for freedom trying to intercept terrorists wherever they may be... but we also learned that we can be vulnerable right here at home."