John Kerry: Fewer Speeches, More Action Needed on Port Security

Senator John Kerry made the following statement today on port security:

“The president is in Baltimore today talking about port security but as the cameras roll, his own Department of Homeland Security has three times missed the deadline for completing a national blueprint to prevent terrorist attacks at ports. Nearly four years and countless warnings later, that work isn’t done. That’s absolutely inexcusable. How can they argue with a straight face they’re doing all they can to protect our ports when we don’t even have basic plans in place?

“The Administration has been asleep at the switch while shipload after shipload of cargo goes uninspected. The Department of Homeland Security’s own Inspector General said that only a fraction of the money awarded for port security grants has actually been spent, and much of what has been spent has been badly mismanaged. For crying out loud, more has been spent on the Capitol Visitors Center than on the Port Security Grant Program.

“Speeches aren’t going to cut it. This is going to take real action and real follow-through. We have to fix this mess right away, and hold the administration accountable for getting this right.”

Port Security Facts

Last week, the Senate passed an amendment by Senator Kerry that will require the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General to report to Congress on the department’s progress implementing 12 recommended changes to improve the department’s port security grant program. In January, the Inspector General issued a report criticizing the department’s management of the Port Security Grant Program, saying there is “no assurance that the program is protecting the nation’s most critical and vulnerable infrastructure and assets.”

The Inspector General found that many of the projects that received funding lacked merit, the program’s bureaucracy prevented money from getting to the most vulnerable ports and that available assessments of ports’ infrastructure and vulnerabilities were not used effectively.

Among the most serious revelations:

* Of the $564 million awarded for port security grants since 2002, only 21 percent, or $106 million, has actually been spent.
* 82 of 86 project applications submitted in 2003 were found by a review board to lack merit. All received funding.
* In 2003, only one staff member oversaw the grant program. 811 projects were funded that year.

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