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The top lawmakers on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee want to ensure that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) adequately protects all modes of transportation — not just aviation.
Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThune endorses Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race Democratic frustration with Sinema rises Senate Republicans raise concerns about TSA cyber directives for rail, aviation MORE (R-S.D.), chairman of the panel, and Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats face growing hurdles in bid to oust DeSantis NASA adviser quits after request to change name of James Webb telescope denied NASA won't rename James Webb Space Telescope despite controversy MORE (D-Fla.), the ranking member, dropped a new bill on Thursday that would require the TSA to assess terrorism risk at all surface transportation facilities and implement a security model based on those risks.
The bipartisan legislation comes just days after a backpack full of bombs was discovered near a train station in Elizabeth, N.J., which has led to heightened security at rail and transit stations around the country.
The lawmakers said they have long been concerned about whether the TSA is doing enough to identify security risks across all modes of transportation.
Although aviation remains a top target for terrorism, the senators pointed out that terrorists have targeted rail and transit stations in Europe.
TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger testified earlier this year that the agency only spends 3 percent of its annual budget protecting trains, subways, buses and ports.
“As we’ve seen recently, train and subway stations aren’t immune to terrorist attacks,” Nelson said in a statement. “Despite this, the majority of TSA activities focus on security at airports.”
Over the last year, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has stepped efforts to ensure rail security.
FRA officials have met frequently with the TSA, Amtrak and other agencies to help improve rail security. The National Joint Terrorism Task Force now meets with the FRA at least monthly, and the FRA, which has a seat on Amtrak’s board, has pushed the passenger rail system to strengthen its relationships with state law enforcement.
But the senators still have their concerns. They were prompted to write the bill after a recent report from the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general, which determined that TSA lacks an intelligence-driven, risk-based security strategy to help the agency make security and resource decisions across all transportation modes.
The report also found that the TSA does not have a formal process to encompass security risks in its budget decisions.
“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 Thune. “This bipartisan 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.”
The legislation from Thune and Nelson would require the TSA to allocate its resources for surface transportation based on current security threats and conduct an annual review of program effectiveness.
Under the bill, the agency would be required to clearly indicate in its budget requests which resources will be dedicated to surface transportation and which will be used for aviation.
The measure also would allow more canine teams to work in surface transportation facilities; improve the screening of maritime workers; authorize the use of computerized vetting systems for passenger rail; and require the TSA to regularly update Congress on the status of overdue surface transportation rulemakings.
“This bill says TSA should take into account all types of transportation when it comes to security and provides the agency with some tools needed to get it done,” Nelson said.