Lawmakers press TSA on surface transportation security inspections

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Rodgers is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Transportation Security. The panel held a hearing Thursday to investigate the TSA's management of its surface transportation inspection program, which is designed to provide spot security checks in lieu of the inspections of every passenger that typify air travel.

"Less than two percent of TSA’s nearly $8 billion budget goes toward surface," Rodgers said during the meeting.

No one from TSA was scheduled to testify at Thursday's hearing, which organizers said was designed to hear from "industry stakeholders."

But the agency was defended by surface transportation providers like Amtrak.

"TSA has been a good federal partner for APD," Amtrak Police Chief John O'Connor said in testimony submitted to the committee.

"They have supported many APD prevention initiatives, including the expansion of our canine program of which I am particularly proud," O'Connor added. "From a partnership view, TSA has also been at our side for programs designed to create greater cooperation and support among all law enforcement agencies for security issues related to rail surface transportation."

Greyhound CEO William Blankenship agreed. Buses are "inherently vulnerable to terrorist attacks because of their unique public accessibility," Blakenship said, but he added that TSA has been helpful to his company in mitigating the risk.

"Greyhound has also worked with TSA in a variety of ways, including two programs that involve TSA surface transportation inspectors, the Base Assessment program and the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams," he said, though he added the programs were "somewhat helpful to Greyhound, but are not at the core of Greyhound’s security efforts."

However, Blankenship touted other ways TSA and Greyhound had worked together on bus security inspections.

"TSA and Greyhound participated in a pilot program to test airport-style baggage screening devices in Lost Angeles and Houston," he said. "Results of the program revealed an annual estimate of 500,000 items that could be used to overtake Greyhound’s drivers."

Rodgers said he understood that TSA's role in surface transportation was designed to be different than its airport security function.

"Local transit agencies and law enforcement take the lead in providing security for surface transportation," he said. "And so far, TSA has done a good job of making sure it stays that way."

But Rodgers said of the TSA surface transportation inspector program "unfortunately, it looks like one of the few surface initiatives TSA is responsible for has not been very well received, or well managed."