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Good afternoon, and thanks for this opportunity to talk with you again. I also thank you for your ongoing efforts on behalf of one of Americas most important assets namely, our marine transportation system. As always, I will continue to rely on your good advice and counsel.
When we met in Kings Point, New York, a little over six months ago, I sought your help in assessing whether or not America needs a marine counterpart to the federal statutory framework we already have in place for surface transportation and for aviation, TEA-21 and AIR-21 respectively.
I also asked you to consider ways to improve the efficiency of our existing MTS, within the framework of a SEA-21 or otherwise, focusing especially on ways of better bringing our separate landside transportation infrastructure together with the MTS to create true intermodalism for both passengers and freight.
This Council has a unique combination of people with the skills and the wisdom to offer invaluable suggestions to the Department and to the Congress on these critical issues, and I look forward to your recommendations.
However, as all of us know, the environment has changed radically since last we met. The horrific attacks of September 11th underscored the essential importance of a safe, stable and fully integrated transportation system to our economy and our national security.
Although much of the media attention has focused on aviation safety, heightened security and awareness will be required from every mode of transportation. None of us can afford to ignore the critical role of our MTS and gateway ports in the battle against terrorism or their potential vulnerabilities.
Within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I authorized the Coast Guard to take actions necessary to control the anchorage and movement of vessels at all our major ports. Since the attacks, the Coast Guard has aggressively established near shore and port domain awareness.
They have also provided an offshore protective force, interdicting suspicious vessels before they reach U.S. shores, and I have approved an emergency 96-hour notice-of-arrival requirement for all ships entering our ports.
The Coast Guard is currently using available information to identify and designate high risk vessels for the purpose of assigning additional controls and port security assets. One aspect of these additional measures has involved a Sea Marshal ship-rider program in place at several ports. The Coast Guard has done an outstanding job since the attacks, and I am prouder than ever to act as their Service Secretary.
The entire Department of Transportation is now actively engaged in the fight against terrorism. Subsequent to the September 11th attacks, in addition to the two rapid response teams that examined aviation security, I established a National Infrastructure Security Committee, or NISC, to look at all modes of transportation.
One component of the NISC is a Maritime Direct Action Group to advise me on port security issues generally, and on port security legislation pending before Congress specifically. I expect to receive and review their report very soon.
One of the very first meetings the Action Group held was with Chuck Raymond, who is doing such an outstanding job as chair of this group. And Chuck, Id like to say again how much we at the Department, and indeed the entire country, benefit from your continuing leadership on MTS policy.
There are a number of issues we will need to address in building a new, post September 11th maritime security environment. In particular, Im concerned about the current gaps in planning for port security.
In aviation, our airports have a level of coordinated security preplanning that allowed the FAA to respond quickly to threats in the aviation system on September 11th. We need to build the same kind of planning structure and response capability for our ports. We need a more consistent framework for improved threat assessment, and a set of standardized procedures and protocols to follow if, God forbid, terrorists strike again.
The Action Group also articulated noteworthy concerns relating to our knowledge of the contents in a marine container. U.S. ports handle more than 17 million marine containers per year. Containers raise a specific concern because they are, by design, intermodal. The container unloaded at a port on one day can end up on a truck or train deep in the heartland of America on the next.
Although existing laws require the manifesting of all inbound cargo, we rely almost entirely on the data provided by shippers to carriers and consignees for information on container contents. And, with very few exceptions, we cannot track a specific container once it leaves the seaport.
The attacks on our aviation security system revealed significant cracks in the personnel screening process at our nations airports, fissures that we will continue to take the necessary steps to fill. Do we need to consider similar screening for personnel employed in security sensitive positions in the maritime industry? And if so, how should we define what constitutes security sensitive in a maritime context?
We need to understand what the various proposals under discussion will mean for the industry, and for the efficiency of maritime transportation.
We can address some of these security challenges administratively, but many will require legislative action. Congress has already introduced a number of security initiatives, and more may follow. Debate in the Senate may begin as early as next week.
We must move quickly on the issue of maritime security. We recognize it will take all of Americas resources public and private sector alike to win this war against terrorism in which we find ourselves today.
That is why we need your help now more than ever. The Maritime Transportation System National Advisory Council possesses both the historical perspective and the collective knowledge to offer specific guidance on reducing the vulnerability of maritime commerce and infrastructure to terrorist activity. I know your security team met this morning, and I look forward to your input.
Members of this Council understand better than most what will and wont work as we seek to balance our national security needs in the post-attack threat environment with the need to continue growing our economy. America needs the instincts and experience of the maritime stakeholder community in all of these deliberations.
A fully coordinated and integrated public-private approach to port security has always been a key element of the Marine Transportation System. Better communication provides the foundation for coordination. Simply stated, we dont speak with one another enough about this important topic and we must. In the short run, this Council provides a logical forum for these conversations.
But in the longer run, providing for the national security must go beyond better law enforcement procedures. We must continue to invest in our critical transportation infrastructure needs. That remains the Councils principal mission.
It is true that we must couple our efforts to expand the capacity of our ports with an awareness of the need for greater security. But, as we gear up to fight the war on terrorism, we cannot afford to ignore the gap between the growing demand for maritime transportation and our current capacity.
President Bush said in his remarks to the families and friends of those who perished at the Pentagon, Our cause is just our nation is strong of heart, firm of purpose. Inspired by all the courage that has come before, we will meet our moment and we will prevail.
Indeed, the American people will prevail because of capable men and women like those of you here today, men and women who believe in the principles on which this great nation was founded freedom, liberty, democracy.
Time and time again, our nations maritime industry has responded to Americas call. I know that you will do so again, tomorrow and for years to come.
Again, thank you for this opportunity to join you. I look forward to continuing our work together.
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