Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 4954, the SAFE Port Act. I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this comprehensive, bipartisan legislation which will address one of the most significant challenges identified by the 9/11 Commission: an attack at our ports. I commend my colleagues for working together to bring forth this important piece of legislation that will enhance our security, improve the efficiency of trade and provide necessary funding for the critical missions of our Coast Guard, Customs and Border Agents, and others involved in the maritime industry.
The Puget Sound region has a long maritime history. As we’ve moved towards a global economy, Washington state had responded accordingly and has become an important global partner in facilitating and improving international commerce. It is estimated that 95 percent of U.S. trade flows through the nation’s 361 ports, equaling almost $1 trillion annually.
As trade with Asia continues to grow, west coast ports, like the Port of Tacoma, are playing an ever larger role. I am proud to have the Port of Tacoma located in my district. It is the nation’s sixth largest port by cargo container volume, it handled over 2.1 million containers last year and continues to be a major economic engine in the South Sound region. In addition to its growing capacity, the Port of Tacoma is also one of the nation’s strategic military ports, helping to transport Fort Lewis-related cargo overseas in support of our troops. I commend the Port of Tacoma for taking the necessary steps to tighten facility security and continue to serve the vital role in the national homeland security efforts.
With the Port of Seattle to the north and the Port of Olympia to the south, the Port of Tacoma works collaboratively with its sister ports and takes a regional approach to improve the security in and around the facilities. In fact, the Port of Tacoma and Port of Seattle worked together in Operation Safe Commerce, a federal program designed to create the knowledge base required for international standards for containerized shipping. Both ports are actively working with private and public entities to identify supply chain vulnerabilities and develop improved methods and technologies to ensure the security of cargo entering and leaving the United States. Many lessons were learned in working with manufacturing and shipping partners and this knowledge will help us improve our efficiency while protecting our citizens and critical infrastructure. I am pleased to see that additional funds are available in this legislation to continue this important program.
The SAFE Port Act takes many critically important steps to prevent another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. This bill strengthens our domestic and international security efforts by making improvements to high-risk cargo targeting and tracking systems. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to deploy nuclear and radiological detection systems to our major ports by the end of next year. Ports will also have the much needed resources they need through the Port Security Grant Program to improve facility security.
Screening containers prior to its arrival at our U.S. ports is critical and I am pleased to see that the Department of Homeland Security is working to evaluate new radiological and other detection devices for use at foreign seaports. I believe these new technologies will arm our security officers with improved information and allow us to better protect our critical infrastructure. The bill also includes improvements to our international screening programs: the Container Security Initiative (CSI) and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT).
The important role that our ports play in security and commerce has too often not received the appropriate level of priority. As a result, funding for the security of our ports has been sorely inadequate. This legislation moves forward in the right direction. We must do all we can to protect our communities, our critical infrastructure and our homeland. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting the SAFE Port Act today.