Despite the fact that Dubai Port World bowed out of major U.S. port operations, "our ports remain a national security nightmare," says Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa.
The security gaps from unchecked containers, inadequate fences and too-few Coast Guard cutters patrolling harbors need to be addressed, as well as port trucking operations, he said. The current system relies on hundreds of contractors and small motor carriers, making it nearly impossible to track who is going in and out of ports. Under these conditions, Hoffa frets that no one takes real responsibility for properly checking and training drivers. They are forced to work long hours for little pay. The solution, he adds, is for drivers to work as employees of companies that are carefully screened and regulated by port authorities. This would ensure security requirements are met.
"Americans should be just as concerned about who has access to our ports as we are about who is running the port," Hoffa asserts.
Recent reports by ABC News and the New York Times, citing the findings of a yet unreleased Homeland Security Department investigation into the New York and New Jersey ports, confirm that port trucking operations are a major security gap. The articles reported that the DHS investigation found:
- Background checks were not conducted for most drivers given licenses at the New York and New Jersey ports;
- About half of 9,000 truckers checked had criminal records, and many had been convicted of homicide, assault, weapons charges, sex offenses, arson, drug dealing, identity theft and cargo theft;
- About 500 held bogus driver's licenses, leaving officials unsure of their real identities.
The DHS investigation of driver screening concluded there are "serious port security concerns and possible security gaps exposing vulnerabilities" that could be capitalized upon by terrorist organizations.
"The only way to ensure the security of our ports is to pass comprehensive port security legislation that deals with all the weaknesses of the system – not just one part of a chain with many weak links," Hoffa says.