Port Officials Say Funding Level Is Inadequate to Ensure Security
By DAVID GREENBERG
More than eight months after the Sept. 11 attacks, a federal program designed to beef up security at the nation’s ports is way under-funded, port and industry officials claim.
Executives from the nation’s ports, its shipping and other maritime-related companies including those in Los Angeles and Long Beach have inundated the Department of Transportation with requests for a combined $691.5 million far more than the $92.3 million that Congress has allotted immediately for port security.
The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach alone applied for $56 million to fund a series of programs that port officials and Mayor James Hahn’s port security task force have been planning.
“Quite frankly, ‘under-funded’ is an understatement,” said Noel Cunningham, chief of the L.A. port police and co-chair of the task force. “Some frustration has set in. There is the danger of complacency that we must be careful to avoid. There has not been a lot of work in our country to secure our seaports.”
Transportation officials said that Congress needs to appropriate more money to get the job done, but the House Appropriations Committee has earmarked only an additional $75 million for port security in a supplemental defense bill.
President Bush’s fiscal year 2003 budget includes a request of $37.7 billion for homeland security, of which $2.9 billion would go to the Coast Guard and port security. But those funds would not be made available until Oct. 1 at the earliest. Port officials say their facilities are vulnerable over the next several months.
The L.A. and Long Beach ports, which requested $36 million and $20 million respectively, are planning separate and joint security upgrades.
Chief among them is construction of a joint-use $20 million to $25 million container inspection terminal on a 15-acre waterfront site near the ports to inspect any cargo that comes from non-allied countries or ports with inadequate security.
Ports teaming up
Expenditures would include explosive detection and X-ray machines operated by police from both ports, U.S. Customs Service agents, Guard Guard officials and the California Highway Patrol.
Plans also call for implementation of a $10 million joint-use credential program that includes background checks and identification badges for all port users and an access control system prohibiting users from entering certain areas or obtaining information that is not relevant to their jobs.
A $3.2 million evacuation plan for both ports is also in the works.
“We need to dedicate our resources to stop the containers before they are distributed into the country,” said Cunningham. “If the container contains biological weapons or explosive devices, we want to keep it on the waterfront away from our communities and traffic corridors.”
In separate programs, port officials want to blanket their facilities and access roads with video surveillance equipment and to purchase additional land and sea patrol vehicles.
The task force already has established several security measures, including a sea marshal program whereby L.A. and Long Beach port police or Coast Guard personnel board cruise ships before they enter or leave the harbor to ensure the ship captain is in control of the vessel.
With insufficient grant funding to date, the ports are picking up much of the tab.
Cunningham’s department has requested a $10.5 million budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, up from $8 million in the current budget, to pay for the addition of 15 port police officers to the staff of 55 and four security guards to the staff of 15.
“We’ve been paying for everything thus far and we’re hoping for some relief in the area of personnel and materials,” said Larry Keller, executive director of the Port of L.A. “While we are happy with this $92 million start, it is only a start in meeting the overall funding need.
The Long Beach port currently contracts with its city police department to answer calls for help. By the end of the summer, police officers will be stationed at the docks, augmenting the armed port security force.
To do that, Long Beach Port Security Director Bob Barker will request a reimbursement line item in the next fiscal year’s budget of $1.9 million, up from the $400,000 he will spend this fiscal year.
Additionally, he wants an increase of $1 million over the $2.5 million spending for his own security operation, which would pay for 16 additional full-time security personnel to join the current staff of 36 full- and 10 part-time employees.
Port officials, however, appear unwilling to divert significant funds from other areas to pay for the security programs.
“Security is a primary concern down here,” said Fausto Capobianco, the Long Beach port’s director of communications. “And $93 million won’t go very far. But we can’t disregard all the programs down here just to pump the money into security.”
A bill co-authored by Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, seeks to place a $350 million bond measure for unspecified port security upgrades on the Nov. 5 ballot.
“That is a long shot,” said Lowenthal, of his bill. “This is not the time to be introducing new legislation that will cost money from the general fund. And the governor has not indicated that he wants any other bonds on the ballot.”