Ports a priority for Homeland Security Dept.

Ports a priority for Homeland Security Dept.

Beefing up port security and related transportation connections -- trucks, trains, and ships -- is shaping up to be a major priority for the new Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS), which was formed on Nov. 11.

According to recent story in the Washington Post, port security remains a huge concern among terrorism experts because only 2% of the 21,000 shipping containers entering through 301 U.S. ports every day gets checked. The 40-foot size of those containers makes them an ideal vehicle for smuggling in nuclear, chemical, biological, or other weapons of mass destruction.

"Obviously, if there's an attack [via] the ports, you could have hundreds of thousands of people die, depending on the weapons used, and there is certainly a colossal risk to the economy," said Rep. David Obey (D-WI) in the Post story.

However, the DHS itself is just in the start-up phase of operations, as it must bring together 22 agencies and 170,000 federal employees under one department within a one-year timetable. For starters, the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), the U.S. Coast Guard, and the border security arm of the U.S. Customs Service will be transferred to the DHS from their respective homes in the Dept. of Transportation and the Treasury Dept. Security for the nation's 301 ports -- including port access for trucks -- will be just one of the areas now under the responsibility of the DHS.

While the new department has one year in which to get organized, funding has already become an issue. Pres. George W. Bush has requested $38 billion in funding for the DHS next year, but has only received approval for $640 million so far. Port security initiatives alone will require $700 million in new funding, according to the American Association of Port Authorities, but only $250 million has been earmarked to date.

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