October 2006 | Commentary | Checking In

SAFE, At Home

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The shipping community, with government assistance, is the defensive line protecting us from threats caused by nuclear proliferation. Where's the global anti-nuke movement? They must be sitting this one out, waiting for the next power plant to open.

We know exactly where Congress is, however. The Security and Accountability for Every Port Act (SAFE) offers up a multi-layered, risk-based group of protective actions, not just in America but at originating ports around the world.

Here are some of the Act's highlights:

  • Expanding The Container Security Initiative, which calls for originating ports to notify U.S. officials about inbound cargo. The United States will install more container scanners domestically, but also "loan" radiation scanners to offshore ports and train workers there on how to use them.
  • Establishing a new office of Cargo Security Policy, which will work with foreign port and security officials to keep bi-directional security information flowing.
  • Developing and implementing plans to quickly resume commerce should terrorists strike a U.S. port (thank you, Katrina).
  • Fast-tracking a transport worker identification card system, including a biometric ID system. Perhaps anticipating an ACLU challenge on privacy grounds, the Act does not bar workers with criminal records. Does that include illegal transport workers? It's a DP World, isn't it?

A dust-up is brewing over the law's "authorization vs. appropriation" issue, however. That's where lots of security initiatives are set down on paper, but not backed up by other paper—greenbacks, that is.

One example is the Port of Oakland, which handles massive inbound container volume. The Port sought funding for cameras, fences, equipment, RFID, and a worker ID system, but was placed in the funding queue alongside Nashville and St. Louis. Homeland Security officials contend that other programs cover Oakland's projects. Prioritizing risk will be continually contentious.

Homeland security grew from a cottage to a mansion industry, but we've dodged the desire by some to make it a government profit center.

Congressman Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for example, wanted to include provisions for security feebates (tax every container), where the shipping community directly foots the bill for homeland security. The feebate concept was lifted from the environmental movement, where the more "bad" you do—in this case, shipping—the more you pay. Should Wal-Mart be the guarantor of domestic security?

Joe Lieberman (D-CT) wanted to balloon funding and infrastructure to protect buses and subways. Staying focused, the majority in Congress told Joe no.

The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that money currently allocated by the bill is half of what's needed to secure the ports from threats caused by nuclear proliferation. If that's so, local entities should step up and fill the breach.

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