House Puts $7.3B for Transit Security, But Veto May Be Coming

Billions marked for rail, transit security, but DOT v. DHS control in question

WASHINGTON -- The House last week approved spending $7.3 billion over four years to bolster rail and public transit security, but the effort could be derailed over politics.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, which Connecticut lawmakers supported because it would provide security funding for carriers such as Metro-North Railroad.

Among the administration's objections is a plan to split control of the grants between the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Transportation.

"Creating a separate grant program that divides responsibility between two executive departments sets up an unnecessarily complicated administrative process and creates confusion among stakeholders as to which department is responsible for transportation security," said the Office of Management and Budget in a statement of administrative policy.

The OMB also complained that the grants would be distributed to private transportation carriers rather than to transit authorities, as is now the practice.

New York Rep. Peter King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, voiced opposition to the provision, telling New York City newspapers that he feared having bus and train carriers set security priorities rather than the police.

New York City provides nearly 2,700 officers to patrol trains and buses but the police department would not be able to apply directly for the anti-terror grants.

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4, also opposed the provision, although he ultimately voted for the bill.

"It seems to me that transit security funding should be streamlined -- distributed by DHS through a risk-based system and going directly to those who provide security. It simply does not make sense to require the police to jump through hoops for reimbursement," Shays said.

The House bill, which was approved 299-124 last week, must be reconciled with a substantially different version that the Senate included last month in legislation aimed at carrying out the recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission.

The Senate version would provide $3.55 billion over three years -- distributed on the basis of risk to public transit systems. The grants would be used to improve protection against terrorist attacks and to mitigate the damage from an attack. The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee had unanimously approved the proposal in February. In March, the proposal was wrapped into the Sept. 11 legislation.

"We need to move swiftly now to reconcile the two measures and get these critically important resources to our public transit systems," said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. "Each and every day, millions of Americans step onto buses and trains to go to work, school and other destinations, and they deserve better protection. We must make transit a top priority when it comes to keeping our citizens safe."

Dodd, who will be among the lawmakers hammering out a final version of the bill, expects to fight in favor of keeping the grants with the transit authorities.

"Sen. Dodd strongly supports providing the transit agencies and first responders who serve those agencies with the resources they need to more effectively keep the millions of Americans who use public transit safe and secure," said his spokeswoman, Colleen Flanagan.

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