Tampa port security procedures confusing, inefficient, report concludes

Regulation of security at Florida ports by the state and U.S. Coast Guard has caused confusion, duplicated efforts and wasted money, a controversial report for the state drug control office concludes.

The Legislature should give the Coast Guard total responsibility for setting security rules and conducting inspections, wrote TranSystems Corp., a Fort Lauderdale consultant. Florida is the only state with a law that regulates seaport security.

"As a consequence of 9/11 … the federal government has created regulations that have effectively and capably rendered much of (Florida law) obsolete," the report states.

The company jumped into the middle of a long-running dispute over the need for state regulation of port security. The Office of Drug Control and Florida Department of Law Enforcement say the state law adds layers of protection that aren't the Coast Guard's concern.

Maritime businesses and officials at Florida's 12 operating deepwater ports say dual regulation adds unnecessary costs and hassles. Port workers, for example, pay for an FBI criminal background check to get a federal credential and a state records check for a local port ID card.

Florida enacted its port security law in 2001, before the terrorist attacks but in the wake of reports that ports had become conduits for crimes like drug smuggling and money laundering. That gave Florida a jump on other states in addressing concerns that ports were vulnerable to terrorism.

The federal Maritime Security Act enacted in 2002 called for nationwide security standards for ports, giving the Coast Guard authority to set rules and inspect for compliance.

Bruce Grant, director of the state drug office, balked when he saw the study in February. The consultant made "a few short phone calls" to his office and FDLE officials, he said.

"Because TranSystems did not include this input, they made numerous false assertions," Grant wrote in a cover letter to Gov. Charlie Crist that accompanied the report. "This study reflects a strong bias towards the commercial operators' perspective."

He asked Crist not to pay the consultant's $200,000 bill. But Grant said the governor's legal staff said he couldn't do that.

Critics of state regulation such as Mike Rubin, vice president of the Florida Ports Council, said Grant just didn't like how the study came out.

"It's what we've been saying for a while," he said. "If this regulation is so important, why do we remain the only state that has it?"

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Tampa port security procedures confusing, inefficient, report concludes 04/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 12:01am]

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