Following the Sept. 11 attacks, the federal government made airport and air travel security a top national priority; however, until recently, lawmakers have not had the same sense of urgency with our country’s mass transit systems. Consider these statistics: Americans take more than 10.3 billion transit trips each year. People use public transportation vehicles more than 34 million times each weekday — 18 times the number of daily boardings on the nation’s domestic airlines. In addition, the 2004 train bombings in Madrid and 2005 bus attacks in London demonstrated the vulnerabilities of public transit and the need for increased federal investment in public transportation security.
The “Improving America’s Security Act of 2007” (P.L. 110-28) implemented many recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, including the strengthening of security in public transportation systems. The law authorized $3.4 billion in funding between Fiscal Years 2008-2011 for the Transit Security Grant Program. These funds can be used by transit systems for a variety of physical security improvements, including the acquisition and installation of perimeter security, access control, video surveillance and fire suppression systems.
The Grants Program provides security funding for five distinct modes of transportation: freight rail, intercity buses, transit, trucking and ferries. From FY03 to FY07 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) allocated approximately $570 million in grant funds. In FY08, the program received $388 million — far less than the authorized amount of $650 million. The Security Industry Association (SIA) is advocating for full federal funding of this program.
The rules governing how these funds may be spent — the “grant guidance,” is a critical component of the Transit Security Grant Program. Earlier this year, DHS issued its FY08 grant guidance imposing a new 25-percent match requirement on the purchase of equipment and a 1/3 match requirement on operational costs for all grant awards. The match requirement for operational costs is expected to increase to 50 percent in FY09. These DHS mandates ignore the intent of Congress when it passed the 9/11 Commission recommendations legislation. The “Improving America’s Security Act of 2007” included no match requirement. Additionally, DHS grant guidance requires that grant funds be applied for and distributed by state agencies rather than directly to and through public transit systems. SIA is concerned that this creates an additional hurdle for transit agencies that actually purchase electronic physical security technologies.
Fortunately, key leaders on transportation policy in Congress share SIA’s concerns, including Reps. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), John Mica (R-Fla.), and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). These influential figures recently wrote a letter to members of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee urging their support to ensure DHS follows the law when implementing the Transit Security Grant Program.
In addition to the funding authorized by the “Improving America’s Security Act of 2007,” the House passed H.R. 1401, the “Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007.” This legislation introduced by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.), provides a strategy for addressing the security needs of rail and transit systems. The bill is currently being considered by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
“Investments to enhance the security of our nation’s surface transportation systems have not kept pace with the needs,” notes Oberstar, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “Last year, the federal government invested $4.7 billion in aviation security improvements, while spending only $136 million on transit and rail.”
SIA will continue to work with policy makers to advocate for full funding of the Transit Security Grant Program.
Don Erickson is director of government relations for the Security Industry Association. For details on SIA’s legislative agenda, or to learn how to get involved in SIA’s government relations activities, contact Tom O’Connor at email@example.com or call 703-647-8483.