White House Budget Proposal Would Put Pinch on Port Security

PORTLAND, Maine -- Security measures at seaports could be put in jeopardy under President Bush's budget proposal to eliminate port security grants previously approved by Congress, officials said.

U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both Republicans, said port security funding should be increased, not cut, and that they would fight the president's proposal that would eliminate separate government grants for ports.

"I'm very concerned that the president's budget would eliminate the separate grant program for port security and would instead fold port security into a general infrastructure grant program," said Collins, chairwoman of the Homeland Security Committee that would consider legislation to consolidate the grants. "It does not guarantee a separate stream of funding for ports. I think that's unfair."

In his budget released Monday for the year starting Oct. 1, Bush proposes eliminating a $150 million port grant program previously approved by Congress. Ports have received $765 million since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for security such as fences, video cameras and identification cards for port workers.

Bush is proposing to lump the ports program in with security for rail and buses, which would then compete for $600 million in his budget. But port officials contend that ports need $400 million before even considering rail and buses.

"Our seaports have to literally fight for leftovers," said Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities.

Portland could use at least twice as much federal money as it has already received, said Jeff Monroe, the city's director of ports and transportation.

The Transportation Security Administration has no standards yet for how ports should handle cruise ship passengers and containers. That, Monroe said, creates confusion about which security strategy ports should follow and could lead to expensive purchases or misguided tactics that are later discarded.

"The problem I have with lumping this stuff all together is that they haven't figured out yet even how to deal with the regulatory side of it," Monroe said. "The standards have to be set. The funding stream has got to be established. And the organization within the TSA has to reach full maturity."

About $2 trillion in cargo flows through U.S. ports each year, along with 7 million cruise ship passengers.