The Squeaking Wheel

Oct. 27, 2008
What’s really behind this year’s transportation security windfall?

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus says, “There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” Public transportation in the United States has ridden just such a flood. In June, the public transportation budget faced a hefty cut. Then, in August, it received a windfall appropriation. The logical conclusion is that the July attacks on the London transit system precipitated the change in strategic focus. But is this appropriation duly authorized under the 9/11 Commission’s Risk-Based Funding Approach, or is it another example of Congress acting hastily in response to exigent circumstances?

To get a clear view of this situation, we should look at it from a few different vantages and examine the steps that took the budget from ebb to overflow.

APTA's Billion-Dollar Roller Coaster
June 20.
The Senate Committee on Appropriations approves transit and rail security grants of $100 million with the FY 2006 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, down from $150 million in FY05.

William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, states in an APTA press release: “APTA is very concerned about the impact of this $50 million cut, and the consequences it will have for our nation’s transit security … We strongly urge the Senate to restore these cuts when the legislation is considered on the Senate floor.”

July 7. Three bombs explode on underground trains in London. APTA responds with a press release including the following quote and commentary: “‘Public transportation is one of the safest types of transportation,’ said Millar who stressed that the U.S. public transportation systems had instituted many security measures before 9/11 and have spent more than $2 billion on security since then.” The same day, the Department of Homeland Security raises the threat level for transit systems.

July 11. APTA releases a press release that states: “This week the full Senate is considering the 2006 DHS Appropriations Bill and APTA is asking that instead of the $100 million the Committee recommended, the Senate include $2 billion for transit security in this year’s DHS appropriations Bill.”

July 13. Another APTA release quotes Millar: “‘After the attacks on Madrid and London, we don’t need another wake up call … We need to streamline the distribution process and make sure that our nation’s transit agencies receive the funding they need to make our public transportation riders and the communities they operate in safer.’”

July 15. An APTA press release states: “People use public transportation 32 million times a day—16 times more than use domestic airlines (sic). However, in the period from September 11, 2001 through May 31, 2005, aviation has received $18.1 billion for security from the federal government while public transportation has only been allocated $250 million. ‘Protecting transit riders is a national security issue and national security is the responsibility of the federal government,’ said Millar.”

July 22. APTA issues a press release averring that Orange Alerts cost U.S. transit at least $900,000 a day. The release quotes Millar as saying, “National security is the responsibility of the federal government. It is the federal government’s responsibility to bear the cost of a federally mandated Orange Alert to safeguard our nation’s transit riders.”

July 29. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) is approved by Congress. This $286.4 billion act includes $52.6 billion in guaranteed funding for public transportation for six years.

August 10. President Bush signs SAFETEA-LU into law. Millar responds in an APTA press release: “This significant increase in transit investment by the federal government is recognition of the importance of public transportation to our communities, whether urban, suburban or rural.”

So, between June 20 and August 10, DHS funding for public transportation changed from a $50 million cut to a $52.6 billion windfall. Now that’s lobbying! But what do the American people get? Will we be any more secure? Let’s hear from the DHS. What has the federal government been doing regarding public transportation since September 11, 2001?

Fed Movement on Transit Security

  1. The federal government has enacted three laws directly impacting the security of public transportation:
    • The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458), which became law in December, requires the DHS to develop a National Strategy for Transportation Security, including identification of vital transportation infrastructure, development of risk-based priorities and methods to defend those assets, and research and development.
    • On April 19, the Homeland Security Subcommittee Approved the 9/11 Commission’s Risk-Based Funding Approach.
    • In May, the House passed the DHS FY06 Authorization Bill (H.R. 1817). Section 321 of this bill requires DHS to issue guidelines for securing public transportation systems from terrorism threats. Section 322 requires DOT to develop a national plan to increase the security awareness of the general public.
  2. The Transportation Security Administration has the lead in developing security initiatives for DHS based on risk and criticality assessments. The TSA reports that it spent nearly $500 million on surface transportation security alone in FY04 and 05. TSA has awarded about $250 million through the Transit Security Grant Program since May 2003, and the agency states that only four percent of that money has been drawn down and spent by local transit agencies. For FY06, beginning this month, another $160 million has been budgeted.
  3. Following last year’s Madrid train bombings, DHS increased funding for rail security and conducted more than 2,600 individual consequence assessments.
  4. On July 19 DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff announced six new policy initiatives based on an in-depth review of the department’s organization and mission:
    • Increase preparedness, with particular focus on catastrophic events.
    • Strengthen border security and interior enforcement and reform immigration processes.
    • Harden transportation security without sacrificing mobility.
    • Enhance information sharing with DHS partners, particularly with state, local and tribal governments, and the private sector.
    • Improve DHS stewardship, particularly with stronger financial, human resource, procurement, and information technology management.
    • Re-align the DHS organization to maximize mission performance. (

What’s the Story?
Now you have heard from both sides. Will the American public receive value for this expenditure? What changes will come from this guaranteed funding for public transportation? The answer lies in the details.

I have reviewed the speeches of APTA’s President Millar and I found the following comment most enlightening: “We are not looking for the same type of security as is found at our nation’s airports … We are looking for funding for common sense solutions such as security cameras, intruder detection devices, upgraded radio communications, increased training and drills for employees and first responders and overtime pay when the federal government raises the security alert status.”

As a former CISO and a participant in Georgia’s homeland security initiative, I have often heard complaints from local governments concerning the costs involved in maintaining Level Orange. Some actually threatened to opt out the next time DHS raised the threat level. I am also aware of the relative costs of security cameras, intruder detection devices, increased training, and upgraded radio communications. With the possible exception of the latter, these items should be purchased out of normal operating revenues.

It seems clear to me that the majority of this windfall funding will be spent to compensate the public transportation industry for the extra personnel and overtime that may be incurred in future elevations of the DHS threat level.

Bob Wynn is the former director and CISO for the State of Georgia. His 20 years in the security field include experience in senior security management, infrastructure protection, computer crime investigations, policy writing, and achieving compliance with federal regulations. For six years, Mr. Wynn has been an instructor at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, VA.