Legislation looks to address TSA holes in surface transportation security

A canine team searches an Amtrak train.Department of Homeland Security
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A new piece of legislation, S. 3379, the Surface Transportation and Maritime Security Act, aims to shore up holes found in the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) approach to transportation safety.

U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who serve as the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, along with Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) who serve as the chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, introduced the bill that they say "addresses deficiencies in the TSA's efforts to protect rail, transit, highway and maritime passenger and freight transportation identified through congressional oversight and a recent report by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general."

The senators say the legislation is intended to address concerns, underscored by recent attacks on transit stations in Western Europe and New Jersey, that TSA is not adequately positioned to identify security risks across different modes of transportation, serve as a source of intelligence or as a training and best practices resource for federal, state, local and private transportation security. The group cites TSA's congressional testimony that it uses only three percent of its budget on surface transportation security.

The senators say the bill would enhance risk-based security planning by requiring the TSA administrator to conduct a risk analysis and implement a risk-based security model for surface transportation facilities and mandate risk-based budgeting for surface transportation security focusing resources on current threats with annual reviews of program effectiveness.

The bill would authorize as many as 70 additional canine explosive detection teams for surface transportation, which could then be increased to 200 based on review and implementation recommendations. The legislation borrows oversights implemented in the aviation industry in a bid to increase transparency and includes actions aimed at reforming port security and Transportation Worker Identification Credentials.

Concerning passenger rail security, the senators say the bill would authorize the use of computerized vetting systems for passenger rail at the request of Amtrak police and the Amtrak Board of Directors and allow grant funding to be used to enhance passenger manifest data so that rail passengers can be identified in case of emergency.

"TSA has broad responsibilities for transportation security, but oversight and independent audits have raised considerable concern about its approach to protecting rail, transit, maritime, and highway travelers," said Sen. Thune. "This legislation addresses gaps in TSA's approach to assessing security risks and will help the agency better fulfill its role as a hub of analysis, planning and information."