Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘Homeland Security’

A Working Relationship (and Work in Progress)

In Federal Government, Ports, Security on October 11, 2017 at 10:22 pm

[This piece by colleague Steve Fisher, Executive Director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association, first appeared in Seaway Review (Summer 2017) under the title, “Learning to Love CBP.” As one might take from the title, a port’s development and commerce mandate and the Federal agency’s primary mission of security and enforcement are not naturally compatible. But on an operations level, it is a necessary partnership, faced with challenges, that the commercial and government sides must make work. And Great Lakes ports have their own particular challenges.]

In today’s post 9/11 security environment, every Great Lakes port must work closely with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that our maritime gateways are not used for nefarious purposes. In this environment, a critical federal agency partner is U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the United States with more than 58,000 employees. The agency’s mission is to safeguard the nation’s borders and protect the public from dangerous people and materials while at the same time enabling legitimate trade and travel. The breadth of the agency’s activities is remarkable. Every day the agency handles more than 1 million passengers arriving into the United States, including more than 58,000 arriving by vessel. At the same time, each day the agency processes more than 79,000 shipping containers and $6.3 billion of imported goods.

The agency’s relationship with Great Lakes ports is an evolving one. New business trends are challenging both ports and CBP. This is particularly true of inspection-dependent activities such as processing cruise ship passengers and containerized cargo. Since the Port of Cleveland and Spliethoff launched the Cleveland-Europe Express container service in 2014, a number of other Great Lakes ports have been exploring shipment of containerized cargo. While the Port of Cleveland has put in place the required inspection equipment and facilities, most other ports have not. In response, CBP has put a halt to some projects.

Cruise passenger processing also requires specialized CBP-approved facilities. Most ports do not have these facilities. In recent years through the good work of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC), an alternative on-vessel clearance program was designed in partnership with CBP utilizing mobile technology. Unfortunately, CBP now intends to sunset this program creating new challenges.

Beyond paying for proper CBP-compliant facilities and equipment, stakeholders have been slow to embrace the agency’s suggestion that staff time be reimbursed through enrollment in CBP’s Reimbursable Services Program. Some view this as paying for government services that ought to be supported by Congressional appropriations.

As CBP works to accomplish its mission, the agency has needs.  Nationwide, the agency is under staffed and under resourced.  For that reason, accommodating new port activity has been challenging for CBP’s Great Lakes field offices. Testifying before Congress, agency leaders claimed to be short 500 officers to work at maritime facilities. In January President Trump’s call for hiring 5000 new agents. With a current 6 percent workforce attrition rate, the agency would need to hire 2,729 new agents a year to reach the President’s goal within 5 years. The current hiring rate is approximately 500 agents a year and is slowed by a strict vetting process, including polygraph tests.

Clearly, CBP needs to be better funded and staffed.  Ports have met with Congressional committees and urged just that. To help address staffing challenges, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has proposed legislation (S. 595) to waive polygraph requirements for applicant officers who previously served in domestic law enforcement or the Armed Forces. The American Great Lakes Ports Association formally endorsed this legislation as a common sense approach to increasing the trusted applicant pool.

Seaports and vessel operators also have needs. To their credit, they are working to launch or grow new business ventures and create jobs. However, like any start-up these ventures are initially modest and cannot support large investments in CBP required buildings, equipment and staffing. The seasonal nature of Great Lakes shipping presents additional challenges.

Herein lies the challenge. How do we help CBP accomplish its mission, while also facilitating the development of new commerce? The solution lies in a flexible approach achieved through dialogue, relationship building, and cooperative problem solving. The development of mobile technology for on-vessel processing of cruise passengers was an example of a flexible approach developed cooperatively. In early August CBP met with Great Lakes cruise stakeholders to begin work on a successor scheme. The workshop was hosted by CBP, the American Great Lakes Ports Association, the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, and the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers. Groundwork was laid for developing a limited number of strategically located clearance facilities at select Great Lakes ports. In concept, these facilities will enable cruise itinerary planners to design voyages that satisfy their customers.

We all need to remember that CBP is an agency of police officers working every day to protect us and our families. Working in partnership, we can help each other accomplish our respective missions – to facilitate commerce and provide for homeland security.

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That’s What Friends Are For

In Congress, Federal Government, Leadership, Politics on August 31, 2017 at 12:06 am

If there’s going to be an historic flood in the United States that requires the full measure of Federal response and recovery assistance, it might as well be in Texas and neighboring Louisiana.

That’s not to wish such devastation on the property and people, many of whom will struggle to achieve normalcy over a too-long recovery. It is recognition that the oil and gas-rich Gulf region has more than fossil fuels going for it. It has government power in Washington and more BTUs of it than have most other parts of the country.

Let’s start with those House Members whose districts are in the generally affected region, some more affected than others. These are politicians who naturally will be attentive to the needs of troubled constituents. Many of them sit on useful committees. Many are ranking on subcommittees. Of course, the more senior the person, the more influence he or she also is likely to have. Then there are the senators, who by their office usually wield more power than their House counterparts. Showing them in numerical order of districts, their terms served, and significant committee assignments —

  • Ted Poe (R-2nd TX) is in his 7th term, on Judiciary, subcommittee chair on Foreign Affairs, and co-chair of the House PORTS Caucus.
  • John Culberson (R-7th TX) is in his 9th term, and a subcommittee chairman on Appropriations.
  • Kevin Brady (R- 8th TX) is in his 11th term, chairs the House Ways & Means Committee and is leading the drafting of new US tax policy, which President Trump claims as one of his very highest priorities.
  • Al Green (D-9th TX) is in his 7th term, and a ranking minority member on Financial Services.
  • Randy Weber (R-14th TX) is in his 4th term, on Transportation & Infrastructure, and a subcommittee chairman on Science.
  • Sheila Jackson Lee (D-18th TX) is in her 12th term, on Budget, and is a ranking minority member on Homeland Security.
  • Pete Olson (R-22nd TX) is in his 5th term, on Energy & Commerce, andco-chairs the Congressional Refinery Caucus.
  • Blake Farenthold (R-27th TX) is in his 4th term, a subcommittee chairman on Oversight & Government Reform, and on Transportation & Infrastructure.
  • Gene Green (D-29th TX) is in his 13th term, a ranking minority member on Energy & Commerce, and co-chairs the Congressional Natural Gas Caucus.
  • Brian Babin (R-36th TX) is in his 2nd term, on Transportation & Infrastructure, and chairs the Space Subcommittee that is important to the Houston Space Center.
  • Clay Higgins (R-3rd LA) is in his 1st term, on Homeland Security,
  • Mike Johnson (R-4th LA) is in his 1st term, on Natural Resources.

…………

  • Ted Cruz (R-TX) is in his 2nd term, and is on Senate Armed Services and chairs the Space Subcommittee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, which also has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard and other maritime matters.
  • John Kennedy (R-LA) is in his 1st term, on the Senate Appropriations, Budget and Small Business Committees, and served five terms as Treasurer of his State.
  • Bill Cassidy (R-LA) is a medical doctor in his 1st term and on the Senate Energy & Natural Resources and Finance Committees.
  • John Cornyn (R-TX) is in his 3rd term, is on the tax-writing Finance Committee, and is Majority Whip, the second highest Republican leader in the Senate.

Beyond John Cornyn’s considerable leadership post, certain of the above committees will or can prove useful in the weeks, months and years of the recovery, some more obvious than others. Appropriations, Agriculture, Armed Services, Transportation & Infrastructure, and Small Business stand out but even being on Energy and Homeland Security panels can be useful in times like these. Likewise, the tax-writing committees where revisions to the tax code are being drafted.

Needless to say, it also helps to be a Republican, from a Republican state, when the White House and levers of government also are in Republican hands.

As icing on the above layered cake, I will add to the list Members from other regions of Texas and Louisiana. In no particular order —

  • Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) chairs the Financial Services Committee that oversees the banking and investment communities and in September will be taking to the House floor legislation to reauthorize and amend the National Flood Insurance Program.  The timing couldn’t be better.
  • Pete Sessions (R-TX) chairs the powerful House Rules Committee that decides, with top Republican leadership, what bills and amendments are allowed to be considered by the full House.
  • Michael McCaul (R-TX) chairs the Homeland Security Committee that has jurisdiction over Federal emergency response programs and Customs & Border Protection, whose personnel have been on the front line of the response to Harvey and are important in port commerce recovery.
  • Steve Scalise (R-LA), who as House Majority Whip is the third ranking Republican in the House leadership. (He has been recovering from gunshot wounds suffered this spring in an attack on Republican Members.)
  • Garret Graves (R-LA) chairs the House Water Resource & Environment Subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the Corps of Engineers, whose engineering resources and funding are vital in clearing navigation channels, evaluating the structure of dams and levees, and studying improvements needed to better prepare the region for flood events.
  • Kay Granger (R-TX) chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Pentagon resources have been on display in rescue efforts.
  • John Carter (R-TX) chairs the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds the Coast Guard, FEMA and other DHS agencies in its jurisdiction.

It is an impressive list that doesn’t include some other members of the Texas delegation who have subcommittee chairmanships not useful to mention here. Nor, as is apparent, are there Democrats listed with top party leadership posts. There are none in those states. Nor, as a consequence of their minority status, do they have committee chairmanships.

I will add two other names to the considerable resources available to the people of Texas and Louisiana as they look for billions of dollars in assistance to address infrastructure, housing and other needs. The two are are Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. As Lyle Lovett might tell them, “You’re not from Texas, but Texas wants you anyway.” Both men are from coastal and port states that know natural disasters and have relied on emergency Federal assistance and resources for rebuilding. They know the Defense Department, its Corps of Engineers, and other agencies intimately. They are not in ideological when it comes to appropriating funds at a time like this. They are not likely to equivocate when colleagues need immediate aid. Frelinghuysen’s statement was issued while it was still raining in Houston and Beaumont:

My Committee stands at the ready to provide any necessary additional funding for relief and recovery. We are awaiting requests from federal agencies who are on the ground, and will not hesitate to take quick action once an official request is sent.

The people of Texas and Louisiana have the support and prayers of presumably all Americans…but they also have the help of friends in high places. That will come in handy.   Pbea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Budget Like None Other?

In Congress, Federal Government, Leadership, President on March 20, 2017 at 9:31 am

A budget that puts America first must make the safety of our people its number one priority — because without safety, there can be no prosperity.   [President Donald Trump in the introduction to his FY18 Budget Blueprint]

President Trump defines public safety in a way that accommodates a substantial reduction in environmental enforcement, diplomacy, and foreign assistance in order to spend more on the Pentagon and border enforcement. His zero sum approach adheres to current, statutory limits on overall Federal spending, thus there are clear winners and clear losers in his “blueprint” for the FY18 budget that was sent to the Hill last Thursday.

Donald Trump’s top-line budget — most details still months away — is the sort that Congress has not been seen in my 45 years working in Washington…and probably not for many decades prior that. Certainly not since some of those departments were created. Threats to cut the budget to some extent, yes. Largely empty campaign promises to eliminate departments, sure. But not a 10 percent increase for the single largest department that already has the equivalent of all other government agencies’ discretionary spending, combined.

Defense would see a $54 billion increase while the Transportation Department would see a 12.7 percent reduction, Labor Department 20.7 percent, State Department 28.7 percent, and Environmental Protection Agency 31.4 percent. Of the 13 Cabinet departments that are proposed for cuts only three are targeted for drops less than 10 percent. Only Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs are slated to see increases.

Consistent with the President’s approach to move the Nation toward fiscal responsibility, the Budget eliminates and reduces hundreds of programs and focuses funding to refine the proper role of the Federal Government. [from “Budget Highlights”]

The proposed budget does nothing to reduce spending in the aggregate. In fact, it challenges Republicans in Congress to set aside their first opportunity in a while for two legislative chambers and the White House to cut overall spending.

This isn’t the first time Republicans control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, of course. But it is as if it takes someone with no experience in government to know what are disposable missions and programs across the Federal government. Or, perhaps, it takes such a person to simply not care. Nineteen agencies — many small and obscure but among them the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Art, National Endowment for the Humanities, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Institute for Peace — are specifically identified for elimination. Other unidentified agencies apparently would be substantially weakened by cuts.

The president’s first budget message faces a predictably rocky road ahead. His own party may be in charge of Congress but that doesn’t protect Trump’s “skinny” budget — an average of two pages per department — from also being called “dead on arrival.” DOA is the usual label legislators apply to any president’s budget submission. However, it may be no more apropos than it is for Donald Trump’s first budget policy expression. A representative counter expression on Capitol Hill is that of fellow Republican Hal Rogers (KY) who served for six years as chair of House Appropriations.

While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the president’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive. … As General [Jim] Mattis [and now Secretary of Defense] said prophetically, slashing the diplomatic efforts will cause them to have to buy more ammunition. There is [sic] two sides to fighting the problem that we’re in: There is military and then there’s diplomatic. And we can’t afford to dismantle the diplomatic half of that equation.”[The Washington Post]

House and Senate members of the president’s party have found a lot not to like. Favored programs and agencies would be cut, if not eliminated, on the non-defense side of the ledger. Some Republicans have also criticized Trump’s trumpeted “10 percent” hike in defense spending as misleading and insufficient. The chairs of the Armed Services committees claim that in actuality the proposed increase is only three percent greater than what Congress funded for the current year. They want more. Then there are the Republicans whose firm ambition to reduce and ultimately end deficit spending is not served by the White House proposal. (The president’s new Director of the Office of Management & Budget, former House Member Mick Mulvaney, was in that camp just months ago.) Intentionally, the new president’s budget does not propose to change the existing multi-year agreement in law that sets an overall spending limit.

Suffice it to say that the Democrats see a document that is easy to oppose. They promise to leave to the majority party the job of approving some form of it, gladly wanting the GOP to be on the record as cutting popular programs. The minority party members already are positioning themselves as not responsible for a government shutdown should the GOP not have the votes to keep the government funded. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer’s statement warns, in so many words, “don’t count on us to help pass your budget.”

If Republicans insist on inserting poison pill riders such as defunding Planned Parenthood, building a border wall, or starting a deportation force, they will be shutting down the government and delivering a severe blow to our economy. [Chuck Schumer (D-NY)]

As telling as the 62-page White House document is, the skinny budget will be followed in May by something resembling a full budget with greater detail that should formally indicate, for example, if the Diesel Emissions Reduction Grant program is proposed for elimination and how much less would be available for Port Security Grants. The May document might also be expected to cover other crucial detail that budgets normally provide.

The bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget notes that “by focusing only on discretionary spending, this budget effectively ignores 70 percent of spending and 90 percent of its growth over the next decade.” That is a reference, substantially, to the defense and national security portion of the Federal budget and the Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid entitlement programs.

As stated earlier, the slashing and shrinking of domestic Federal programs and agencies is proposed to benefit the Defense Department with a $54 billion increase, in addition to plus-ups for the nuclear program and border security. Nowhere in the budget document is there a reference to the substantial sums that various independent reports have identified as being in reach with the adoption of Pentagon reorganization and other efficiencies. Might that come later?

Last note, to complete the picture: The Trump blueprint for FY18 is accompanied by a supplemental request for the current FY17 that includes an extra $33 billion for the Defense Department, the border wall, and the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

To read the Trump budget “blueprint” find it here. The 56th page has a table that provides a quick look as to how the proposed budget compares with current year levels.  Pbea

 

One Hundred Percent Security

In Congress, Federal Government, Ports, Security on July 23, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Not even Ivory Soap is 100 percent.  It may float but, as the once ubiquitous slogan puts it, Ivory doesn’t do better than “99 and 44/100 percent pure!”

So if the blue chip labs of Proctor & Gamble can’t deliver a simple matter of 100 percent pure soap why should anyone think it’s possible to implement 100 percent cargo scanning before the boxes hit our shore?  …Or think 100 percent secure U.S. coastlines is possible. Okay, sure, that last one sounds a bit silly but we’re dealing in facts here.

In the months following the attacks of September 11 former Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS) insisted that America could be completely secured along the over 12,000 miles of seacoast. A tight seal that would catch whomever and whatever might dare to sneak into our collective nightmare.  He persisted, earnestly, in pressing that point to a hearing witness, a retired Coast Guard rear admiral who found it hard to believe the congressman was serious.

In more recent years the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has struggled with that kind of no-exceptions, no-excuses expectation. The sort that has plagued the TSA for much of its existence. Congress directed the U.S. agencies to go forth and have image and radiation scanning equipment installed in every overseas port that exports containerized cargo to the U.S. We don’t want terrorists to view our ports as easy gateways for nuclear weapons guised as consumer goods.

One result of al-Qaeda proving the nation’s vulnerability was an almost immediate national awareness of our seaport system. Open doors in the global village. America had security in place at airports–tragically loopholed as it was–while at our ports the Federal agencies were on the lookout mostly for contraband, plant disease, and the occasional stowaway. Flood-lit attention quickly zeroed in on the seaports and land borders. Persons such as Stephen Flynn filled the vacuum as government and news agencies required expert testimony and quotable expressions of alarm.

The policy response was understandable. New laws, quickly crafted regulations, and a flood tide of security personnel. A new department was created when small-government Republicans largely dominated in Washington.

By 2007 two maritime security laws had been enacted and a considerable security regime was in place in our harbors, on cargo ships and in the supply chain. Countries and companies trading with the U.S. were told to meet our terms. Hundreds of millions of grant dollars were spent to harden security in large and small ports. (Over $2,000,000,000 for port security grants since then.) Funding also was provided for three pilot tests of 100 percent scanning  in overseas ports. Then Congress upped the ante.

A new “full-scale implementation” requirement was put in place to deny entry to cargo containers unless they were “scanned by unobtrusive imaging equipment and radiation detection equipment at a foreign port before it was loaded on a vessel.” The shipping/logistics industry explained why that wasn’t good policy or particularly feasible. Nevertheless a deadline of July 2012 was set for 100 percent scanning along with authority for the Secretary of Homeland Security to extend the deadline as necessary.

Not surprisingly, in June Secretary Napolitano reported to Congress that the deadline would not be met and has pushed out the compliance date to July 2014.  Months before, the GAO gave testimony on the state of containerized cargo security.  It is a readable statement about the layered, risk-based security regime that is in place and the challenges the government has experienced both here and abroad in securing the country against smuggled nuclear devices.

The legislators stand 100 percent behind their 100 percent requirement. In an op-ed piece three House Members acknowledge that the original deadline was ambitious but want to keep the pressure on an executive branch they doubt wants to see full-scale implementation. “Cost and technology have never been the primary obstacles to meeting this mandate. What is missing is a sense of urgency and determination.” Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) said in a Washington Post story, “I personally do not believe they intend to comply with the law…. This is a real terrorist threat, and it has a solution. We can’t afford to wait until a catastrophic attack.”

Don’t expect this issue to be resolved anytime soon. Few in Congress will go on record to remove the requirement.

Should we expect–even want–100 percent security at any cost? In a global supply chain so extensive and complex is absolute security possible? Ask voters if they are willing to be subjected to metal detectors and armed guards at their local Loews Cinema after what just happened in Aurora. Where will the next troubled mind chose to bear arms?  At the Harris Teeter meat counter?

In 2002 I met with the fellow who headed the transportation branch at the Office of Management and Budget. He and his colleagues were struggling with the budgetary response to September 11. They faced the practical questions of what can be afforded even when we had horrific cause to be generous with tax dollars–and indeed, the money flowed–and whether unlimited spending could really make the nation secure. How do we determine risk in order to set priorities? Could money buy the “full-scale” securing of the American transportation system? How does one make a public transit system 100 percent secure?

Go to the Ivory Soap website–actually a Facebook page–and you see this absurdly-reassuring corporate statement that could be a Madison Avenue rewrite of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. “Ivory provides freedom from nonsense and complexity by giving you everything you need and nothing you don’t.”

Just don’t look for 100 percent.   Pbea