Lawmakers urge port security funds

A coalition of lawmakers representing ports and coastal areas around the United States asked congressional appropriators Wednesday to increase the money for port security infrastructure improvements apportioned in the fiscal 2003 supplemental budget.

As appropriators jockey over just how to spread the supplemental money around, the lawmakers said the nation's ports have serious security gaps that could give terrorists a chance to smuggle weapons of mass destruction into the United States unless more money is pumped into their security systems.

The Coast Guard estimated in December 2002 that improvements to port security would cost $963 million for fiscal 2004 and $4.4 billion over the next ten years. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress has only earmarked $368 million for port security infrastructure improvements.

"While this funding is welcome, much more is needed," the Port Security Caucus said in a letter released on April 9 to House and Senate negotiators. The Port Security Caucus represents more than 80 members of Congress.

"For the Department of Homeland Security to meet its goals and for America to secure the homeland, money for port security infrastructure upgrades should be increased significantly and soon," the letter said.

Congress and DHS have been focusing on tightening security around the nation's ports and are now requiring inspections of container cargos and that advance manifests be submitted to Customs officials before a vessel leaves a foreign port. Nevertheless, experts say the ports still remain vulnerable because it is impossible to inspect every bit of cargo that enters the United States.

"The events of Sept. 11 illustrate what a terrorist group intent on attacking America can accomplish," the lawmakers said. "It is clear that groups like al Qaeda still have the will to attack. Providing funding for critical port security needs will help ensure the security of our homeland."

Congressional appropriators hope to finish by the end of this week the supplemental appropriations bill that includes more money for homeland security initiatives.

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