Rep. Mike Rogers and industry representatives questioned aspects of TSA surface transportation security programs during a hearing yesterday.
Industry representatives and lawmakers yesterday afternoon criticized the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) handling of surface transportation security issues, including hiring security inspectors with little experience in the sector, providing insufficient funds to help share the burden of security upgrades, and failing to provide valuable and timely information.
The point of the hearing before the Subcommittee on Transportation Security was evaluating TSA’s Surface Transportation Security Inspection Program (STSIP), whose budget has quadrupled over the past five years. Under the program, surface transportation security inspectors (STSIs) conduct security reviews and ensure surface transportation stakeholders comply with relevant security directives and regulations.
Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) openly questioned the value of the program and its effectiveness. “[I]n the history of the program, only one situation has ever resulted in a punitive fine, across the entire country, as a result of these inspections,” he noted.
Further calling its effectiveness into question, Rogers said the subcommittee’s oversight investigations of the program discovered that most inspectors have no experience in a surface transportation setting, with most promoted from airport security checkpoints; have little work to do; and inflate their inspection numbers.
“These findings are disturbing to me,” he said. “Here we have TSA hiring more and more surface inspectors. And yet, where is the security benefit?”
Rogers wondered whether resources dedicated to the STSIP program wouldn’t be better spent on other surface transportation security programs, particularly the Transit Security Grant Program , which has had its funds slashed over the past few years.
Howard Elliott, vice president of public safety and environment for CSX Transportation, Inc, was also troubled by a lack of consistency between inspector’s regulatory interpretations.
“Different TSA STSIs have interpreted specific provisions of the Rail Transportation Security Rule in different ways, and provided contradictory guidance regarding what actions are and are not acceptable in meeting the rule’s requirements,” he said. “Actions accepted as compliant by some TSA field offices have been labeled violations that produce official citations by others.”
While the hearing was officially about TSA’s surface inspection program, industry witnesses took the opportunity to criticize other aspects of how TSA performs its surface transportation security responsibilities, particularly how TSA resources are disproportionately used to secure the aviation sector.
Less than 2 percent of TSA’s $8 billion budget is spent on securing surface transportation, Rogers noted.
Many witnesses noted that terrorists have repeatedly struck surface transportation targets successfully overseas , even if terrorists, such as Najibullah Zazi, have failed in the United States.
“[S]ince the 9-11 attacks, terrorists have carried out 1,804 attacks on bus and rail targets, killing more than 3,904 people,” testified John O’Connor, Amtrak’s vice president and chief of police, referencing research conducted by the Mineta Institute .
Doug Morris, director of security operations for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told lawmakers that Congress should require that TSA fund the First Observer program, which trains professional drivers, like truckers, to watch out for and report suspicious activity. He said the program has been operating under a “no cost extension” since the new year.
“It is widely known that the lion’s share of funding within TSA is allocated towards the aviation sector and relatively little is dedicated to the surface transportation arena where the economic and other costs of a homeland security incident could far exceed those that this nation suffered on September 11, 2001,” Morris said.
William C. Blankenship, the chief operating officer of Greyhound Lines, also pointed out that motor carriers have also had TSA funding issues this year. Under the Intercity Bus Security Grant Program (IBSGB), motor carriers previously received on average $10 million a year to help secure their buses. In 2011, $5 million was appropriated for the program. This year no funding was available. In the past, Greyhound used IBSGP funds to install an on-board emergency communications system, upgrade facility security, and double the size of its passenger screening program.
Blankenship also closed on the disparity in aviation security speeding compared to buses. Noting that intercity buses carry 720 million people annually, “it is difficult to conclude that a federal security program that makes billions of dollars available for aviation security and nothing for intercity bus security is well balanced,” he said.
The lack of information-sharing between TSA and private security stakeholders was also a cause for concern, especially for the rail industry, which has established an industry-wide information sharing center and alert network.
“Information sharing is a two-way street, though, and unfortunately, CSX and the rail industry have found that information sharing by various government agencies with the rail industry is plagued by persistent difficulties in timeliness, practical security relevance, and means of dissemination,” according to CSX’s Elliott. “Railroads provide a plethora of security-related information every day to various government entities, but this reporting yields comparatively very little in analysis of security value for the industry.”
♦ Photo by vxla/Flickr