Dems: Security improvements needed

Dems: Security improvements needed

WASHINGTON -- One year after establishing the Department of Homeland Security, the nation is not as safe from terrorism as it should be, Democrats on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security said Wednesday.

"The real question we need to ask today is whether we are as safe as we need to be today in light of the terrorist threats we face. The answer is, unfortunately, no, we are not," said Jim Turner of Texas, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Committee Democrats released a 135-page report, "America at Risk: Closing the Security Gap," that details the state of homeland security one year after the department was organized. More than 10 pages are devoted to port and cargo container security. The report also reviews aviation, and infrastructure and borders, among other topics.

"The Department of Homeland Security has several initiatives dedicated to preventing terrorists from attacking America's ports. Despite these efforts, many security gaps remain," the report states. "Container shipments are not secure from their points of origin to their final destination, and many ports are struggling to make physical security improvements. To remedy these problems, the administration should improve the integrity of container shipments, develop a credible system of inspection and make sufficient resources available to local ports for security enhancements."

The report recommends that the administration require all containers intended for the United States be sealed electronically; that Customs and Border Patrol hire more inspectors to process applicants in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program and conduct on-site inspections, and that Customs deploy more container X-ray machines.

"The men and women who patrol our borders, inspect cargo at our ports and respond to emergencies are setting a standard for excellence, but they must have the leadership and support they deserve," Turner said. "It is our constitutional duty to them, and the nation, that we steadfastly pursue congressional oversight to make sure we do all we can to provide for the common defense."

The full text of the report is available on the Democratic website of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security at www.house.gov/hsc/democrats.