Many ports lose out in risk-based grant program

Only about one-sixth of the nation's 361 seaports will be eligible to apply for $141 million in the Port Security Grant program from the Homeland Security Department under new risk-based eligibility rules released Friday.

The new grant requirements specify that only 66 seaports judged to be high-risk by the department ? based on evaluations of vulnerability, threat and consequences ? are eligible for the funding. That is a change from previous years in which more than 100 seaports annually were awarded federal port security grants.

The list of ports eligible to apply in 2005 includes New York/New Jersey, Long Beach, Calif.; Norfolk, Va., and Lake Charles, La. The funding can be used to pay for access controls, fences, alarms, gates and other security equipment.

Congress should add more funding to allow many other ports to beef up security as well, urged the American Association of Port Authorities in a statement. The association recommends $400 million a year.

Since ports will need to spend $5.4 billion over 10 years to comply with the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, as estimated by the U.S. Coast Guard, there should be money available to all ports, the association said.

"The program should ensure we don't leave a soft underbelly of unprotected ports, which are part of our international borders," Kurt Nagle, president of the association, said in a statement.

Of the 85 seaports that are members of the port association and are required to make security improvements under the MTSA, only about one-half ? 46 ports ? are eligible for port security grants this year, said Aaron Ellis, a spokesman for the association. Ineligible ports include Galveston, Texas, Palm Beach, Fla., and all the Great Lakes ports including Chicago, Duluth, Minn., and Cincinnati.

The port security grant program, which has distributed $560 million to date, was criticized in February by DHS' inspector general for being poorly designed by attempting to both offset costs of the MTSA and to target high-risk ports. "The current design of the program compromises DHS' ability to direct resources toward the nation's highest priorities," the IG's report said.

For fiscal 2006, the Bush administration has recommended eliminating the port security grants as a separate program by folding it into a new, larger $600 million critical infrastructure grant program. The port authority association is objecting to the new structure. And the House Appropriations Committee recently rejected it as well, approving $150 million for fiscal 2006 for the port security grant program as a separate line item.

In April, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, submitted legislation to establish a port security grant program authorized at $400 million a year. It would be based primarily on risk and funded by custom duties collected at each individual port, Harman said in a press release.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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