AAPA Port Security Committee Member Testifies Before House Subcommittee on 10th Anniversary of MTSA
House Subcommittee testimony emphasizes more needed to secure America’s seaports
Bethann Rooney, member of the American Association of Port Authorities’ (AAPA) Security Committee, chairperson of the AAPA Port Security Caucus, and security manager at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, testifying today on behalf of AAPA before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, said that America’s seaports are safer than they were when Congress passed the Maritime Transportation Safety Act (MTSA) a decade ago. However, she was quick to note that major challenges still exist in areas such as fully funding the federal Port Security Grant (PSG) program, upgrading Department of Homeland Security (DHS) threat detection equipment at ports and completing the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card reader evaluation and testing process.
Ms. Rooney told attendees of the hearing, entitled “Tenth Anniversary of the Maritime Transportation Security Act: Are We Safer,” that while the DHS has made tremendous progress in accurately and thoroughly assessing risk threats at ports, there is still room for improvement.
“We commend the U.S. Coast Guard for an excellent job in enforcing regulations, conducting vulnerability assessments and developing vessel and facility security plans to secure the nation’s ports,” she said. “However, while the Coast Guard has developed a robust and comprehensive Maritime Security Risk Assessment Model, or MSRAM, the model isn’t being used uniformly by all federal agencies that assess risk in the maritime environment.
“MSRAM,” she continued, “should be made available in an unclassified version, on a limited basis, to regulated facilities and vessels to conduct detailed risk assessments of their own facilities or vessels using the same scoring criteria that the Coast Guard uses. This provision was included in the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 by the 111th Congress but has not been implemented.”
On the topic of port security grants, Ms. Rooney pointed out cuts to the program in the last few years and urged Congress to fully fund the PSG program again “so that our ports continue to be a priority in our country’s war against terrorism.” Citing the importance of the program, Ms. Rooney noted AAPA’s strong opposition to a proposal to merge all critical infrastructure grant programs, such as those for port security, transit, intercity rail and emergency management, into one that would be managed by the states. The association also opposes the 25 percent cost-share requirement for public agencies that receive port security grants.
In reflecting on a move to shorten the performance period to two years between the time a port is awarded a grant and the time it must spend the money, Ms. Rooney requested the committee’s assistance to ensure the performance period is no less than three years.
Regarding the subject of DHS screening and scanning equipment at ports, Ms. Rooney said that fiscal constraints on federal authorities that own, operate and control this equipment has shifted the cost burden of installation and upkeep onto the ports and their terminal operators. She estimated that one project at her port is forcing the terminal operator to shoulder $2.5 million in engineering, permits, infrastructure and related costs, while DHS is contributing only $750,000. “That is not a very equitable ‘cost share’,” she remarked, adding that ports should be able to use grant funding in such cases.
Ms. Rooney addressed issues related to the TWIC program, saying that the lack of a final TWIC card reader specification and certification process makes it impossible to identify cards that have been reported as lost, stolen, revoked or suspended, while the lack of an updated threat assessment could compromise the security of port facilities. She also asked the committee to consider a list of five future MTSA enhancements, ranging from requiring TWICs to be displayed on a worker’s outermost garments, to setting minimum-security standards for maritime support services, such as supply vessels, bunker providers and launch operators.