Daily Breeze

February 13, 2004

Harman: Port security funds lacking

By TOBY ECKERT
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's proposed budget for 2005 shortchanges port security and emergency communications systems, South Bay Rep. Jane Harman charged Thursday.

The El Segundo Democrat said she was disappointed by Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge's responses when she quizzed him on those issues during a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, is co-sponsoring legislation that would use a portion of shipping duties collected by U.S. customs to fund port security projects.

Ports, like the sprawling Los Angeles and Long Beach complex, should be able to secure long-term funding for the projects in the same way airports have since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Harman argues.

But she said Ridge indicated he did not support such an approach.

"Airports can plan ahead by using letters of intent, which allow for multiyear planning, but as of now ports can only fund one year out," Harman said, referring to federal grants for which ports can apply.

She also criticized the Bush administration for requesting only $46 million for the grants during the next fiscal year.

The Homeland Security Department awarded $179 million in grants for the current fiscal year, including $18.7 million for Los Angeles-area facilities.

Department spokeswoman Rachel Sunbarger said the grants are only one part of a "multi-layered" approach to port security that also includes new efforts to spot potentially dangerous cargo and develop more secure supply chains.

"We've got a number of port security programs out there," she said.

Overall, port security efforts would increase 13 percent -- or by $224 million -- next year under Bush's proposal, according to the White House.

Officials at the Port of Los Angeles and other port authorities have complained that federal support is woefully inadequate. They argue it will cost them $5.4 billion over the next 10 years to comply with a maritime security law passed by Congress in 2002.

Security experts have warned that U.S. ports are vulnerable to a terrorist attack or that terrorists could use one of the millions of cargo containers that flow into the country each year to smuggle a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon.

Harman also took issue with the administration's plan to eliminate a line of funding for initiatives designed to integrate the communications systems used by police, firefighters and other "first responders."

Hundreds of emergency workers lost their lives during the response to the airborne attack on the World Trade Center because "their radios could not communicate with one another," Harman said.

The response to last fall's California wildfires was hampered by the same problem, she added.

Sunbarger said other funding can be used to improve communications systems, including the main grant program for first responders, which would total $3.6 billion next fiscal year under Bush's plan.

The initial funding provided for communications systems "established a good base" and homeland security officials are "confident we are moving in the right direction," she said.

Harman said she is "disappointed to hear (Ridge's) view that there is enough grant money out there to handle the job. I doubt anyone in Los Angeles agrees."