WASHINGTON, DC - Today, The President Delivered Remarks At The Port Of Baltimore In Maryland, Calling On Congress To Renew The 16 Provisions Of The Patriot Act Set To Expire And Discussing Efforts To Secure Vital Infrastructure. President Bush called on Congress to act now so that law enforcement has the necessary tools to fight terrorism. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), released the following statement in response to President Bush's appearance this morning at the Port of Baltimore:
"I'm pleased that President Bush visited the Port of Baltimore, and I hope that he has had an opportunity to learn about the security needs at the Port. Our economy depends on moving goods via our ports and rail, our security depends on ports that are safe and protected from attacks. That's why I've been fighting to upgrade and protect our Port of Baltimore for more than 20 years. For years, it was fixing the twists and turns in our channels that were a safety risk. Today it's threats that were unthinkable years ago. Keeping our Port and our people safe from terrorism is one of my top priorities.
"But it hasn't been a top priority for the President, who failed to provide one penny for port security grants for three years in the aftermath of 9/11. I fought for funding during each of those years, but when the President doesn't support these investments it's an uphill battle. We don't need port photo ops from the President; we need dollars for port security. Even this year, the President's budget included no specific funding for port security grants. I fought for $200 million to upgrade entry gates, perimeter fencing, installing surveillance equipment, and purchasing new patrol boats. The Coast Guard estimates that roughly $8 billion is needed to address port security nationwide. I ask the President to listen to the Coast Guard, and provide the needed funding to protect our ports.
"I applaud those who put their lives on the line everyday to ensure a safer and stronger America, not only our police and fireman, but our Customs agents and Coast Guard, our bay pilots, tugboat operators, longshoreman, and rail yard workers who keep our economy on the move -they are also on the front lines of the War on Terror. They deserve to be protected with deeds, not just words."
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) released the following statement today in response to President Bush's visit to the Port of Baltimore. As the only member from Maryland serving on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hoyer has secured millions of dollars to keep the Port viable.
"The Port of Baltimore is a significant economic engine for our state and presently supports nearly 115,400 jobs in the State of Maryland, generates more than $1.4 billion for the State and regional economies and represents one-tenth of Maryland's gross state product.
"We must defend our nation against terrorists by adopting a comprehensive plan to protect our major ports and borders and prevent terrorist infiltration. It is critical that we protect and maintain points of entry like the Baltimore Harbor to insure their continued economic viability.
"Regrettably, the Republican Party has underfunded this national security priority leaving our ports vulnerable and without the necessary security improvements identified by the U.S. Coast Guard. On July 1, 2004, U.S. port facilities were required to comply with a comprehensive set of security regulations issued by the U.S. Coast Guard after September 11. The Coast Guard estimates that these security regulations will cost ports $540 million a year.
"However, the most recent round of port security grants from the Department of Homeland Security will provide our ports with $140 million - total. This is $400 million less than the Coast Guard's estimated need and will not get the job done.
"The Intelligence Community has warned of the possibility of terrorists attacking the United States by using a container to smuggle people or weapons into the country on a ship, truck, or airplane. But the majority of containers are sealed with tags that do not prevent access to containers and fewer than 6% are X-rayed for weapons of mass destruction or dangerous material when they arrive in the United States.
"Furthermore, the $6 million machine unveiled by Gov. Ehrlich that the President saw today is only an X-ray machine. It cannot detect radiological or nuclear materials. As of June 2005, only one port in the United States has the capacity to screen all containers for weapons of mass destruction.
"Despite these threats, there are no minimum standards for container security. There is no process for verifying who filled a container at the point of loading and who is handling a container as it is shipped from a factory in another country to the U.S.
"Our highest duty is to protect the American people, defend our homeland and strengthen our national security. I hope that in his visit to Baltimore, the President not only recognizes how essential this Port is to our nation's economy, but also truly commits to immediately provide adequate funding for security needs at the Port of Baltimore and ports across the country. We must do what is necessary to protect the American people and our homeland from another attack."
BACKGROUND: The President addressed the following talking points during his speech.
President Bush Has A Comprehensive Strategy To Defend Our Homeland.
* The President Is Devoting Unprecedented Resources To Improve Security. The President has more than tripled annual funding for homeland security since September 11, enhancing the capacity of the U.S. to prevent, protect against, and respond to a terrorist attack. Innovative programs have been developed to defend against WMD threats and cyberterrorism, and funding has been increased more than ten-fold for police officers, firefighters, and other first responders.
* The President Is Committed To Strengthening Defenses At Our Most Vulnerable Locations. Protection has been stepped up at our borders, coastlines, airports, bridges, highways, power plants, water-treatment facilities, and other critical sites. Federal agencies are also continuing to work closely with State and local authorities to secure mass transit systems, including steps to widen the use of explosive detection teams and a near doubling of the number of rail security inspectors. With a proposed 64 percent budget increase for infrastructure-protection grants, President Bush is continuing to boost funding for security measures to protect our Nation's ports and transit systems.
* The President Is Working To Make Government And Law Enforcement More Unified And Effective. The Department of Homeland Security is in the process of streamlining the operations of its 180,000 employees. Intelligence agencies have been reformed, and a new Director of National Intelligence will help America stay a step ahead of its enemies. The new National Counterterrorism Center is also bringing together personnel from different agencies to work side-by-side, and Federal agencies are actively working to strengthen their partnerships with State and local officials.
To Protect Our Economy And Security, Our Seaports Must Remain Open And Safe.
* The Container Security Initiative Identifies Dangerous Cargo Before It Reaches Our Shores. Containers bound for the United States are now screened at more than 35 foreign ports. Since September 11, more than $700 million in Federal grants has helped to secure individual ports, including $15 million to help secure the Port of Baltimore.
* Upgrading Inspection Technology Will Make Cargo Inspections More Efficient And More Effective. Employing advanced screening devices such as an X-ray system that can penetrate steel cargo containers allows U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors to maximize efficiency and reduce risk when inspecting port cargo and patrolling port waters.
* President Bush Is Committed To Continuing The Progress of Safeguarding America's Seaports. The President's FY 2006 Budget proposes $2.3 billion in port-security funding, almost ten times the amount before September 11, and an 11 percent increase in the Coast Guard budget over the current year, including funding for more patrol boats in critical locations.
The Patriot Act Should Be Fully Renewed To Stop Terrorists Before They Strike.
* The Patriot Act Authorized Better Information Sharing Between Law Enforcement And Intelligence Agencies. Before the Patriot Act, criminal investigators were separated from intelligence officers by a legal and bureaucratic wall. The Patriot Act helped tear down this wall - and now law enforcement and intelligence officers are sharing information, working as a team, and breaking up terror networks.
* The Patriot Act Gives Law Enforcement Agents The Ability To Use Tools Against Terrorists That Are Already Available Against Other Criminals. The Patriot Act permitted law enforcement to use the same tools to investigate terrorists that they already had to investigate drug dealers, tax cheats, and organized crime.
* The Patriot Act Updates The Law To Meet 21st Century Threats Like Computer Espionage And Cyberterrorism. Terrorists are using every advantage of 21st century technology - and Congress needs to ensure that our law enforcement can as well.
* The Patriot Act Helps Law Enforcement Fight Terrorism While Safeguarding Civil Liberties For All Americans. The judicial branch has a strong oversight role in the application of the Patriot Act. Law enforcement officers must seek a federal judge's permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist's phone, track his calls, or search his property. These strict standards are fully consistent with the Constitution. Congress also oversees the application of the Patriot Act, and in more than three years there has not been a single verified abuse.
* The Patriot Act Has Protected American Liberty and Saved American Lives. Law enforcement has used the Patriot Act to break up terror cells and prosecute terrorist operatives and supporters in New York, Oregon, Virginia, Florida, California, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, North Carolina, and Ohio.