Years after Congress passed new maritime security laws in the aftermath of 9/11, it remains an open question whether U.S. ports are more secure.

A Senate committee looked at the issue at a hearing last week, and the overall impression I got from reading the testimony is that gains have been made, thanks to two important and costly maritime security laws. But some requirements remain underfunded or unfulfilled, while others are getting diluted by time, budget cuts and less emphasis on security issues.

Since the Maritime Transportation Security Act was passed in 2002, followed by its sister legislation, the SAFE Port Act in 2006, millions of dollars in federal, state and private industry investment has gone into maritime security. Think TWIC, port and vessel security plans, addition of new security officers and installation of sophisticated security equipment at facilities and ports. Ports and vessels seem to have now accepted these mandates as a normal part of doing business.

But when you look more closely at the details, there are still several key mandates that are either pending, on the verge of being phased out, slogging along under the weight of the federal bureaucracy or not yet well addressed as a security threat.

Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities, told senators that port security grants — which helped fund many of the security upgrades at ports, including vessels, vehicles and detection systems — have suffered budget cuts and changes in how the program is administered that will make grants less effective.

For example, FEMA, which administers the program, has changed the period of performance from three years with a possibility of extension, to a strict two years. “[This] will result in a focus on easy to do projects and easy to purchase equipment rather than looking at highest risk needs,” Nagle said. In addition, the Obama administration is proposing to lump these grants into a catch-all National Preparedness Grant program, which would put the states in control of funding without a mandate that some of the money go to ports.

TWIC, which has been dogged by numerous problems since its debut, is still not totally operational as a security program because a final federal rule on installing readers that validate a credential is still pending. “This has resulted in some TWIC grants being reprogrammed to other priorities,” Nagle said.

It should be noted that TSA is also behind in a full rollout of the OneVisit program, an automated mailing system for all TWIC applicants who want to receive their cards by mail and avoid two trips to a TWIC enrollment center. Congress mandated the program a year ago, and TSA has just finished pilots in Alaska and Michigan and is moving into a phased nationwide application.

And now there’s a new report from the General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, recommending that more attention be paid to cybersecurity at U.S. ports.

“Failures in these systems could degrade or interrupt operations at ports, including the flow of commerce,” said the report, released June 5, adding that the Coast Guard should do a risk assessment and determine if further action is necessary.

So while some programs are winding down or limping to the finish line, another might just be coming up to bat.

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.