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Lawmaker asks GAO to probe rail security

(The following article by Jonathan Marino was posted on Govexec.com on August 25.)

WASHINGTON -- The Government Accountability Office will investigate the Transportation Security Administration's rail security efforts at the request of the House Homeland Security Committee's ranking member.

In an Aug. 20 letter to Comptroller General David Walker, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., asked GAO to look into how TSA is coordinating with the passenger rail industry, and a range of other issues.

"I continue to be concerned about TSA's progress in assessing compliance with rail security directives, federal progress in pursuing needed research and development technologies for passenger rail security, federal efforts to ensure passenger rail employees receive needed security training, and the distribution of funding to rail operators," Thompson wrote.

The letter also calls for an investigation of whether TSA has succeeded in meeting previous GAO recommendations.

Thompson and other Democrats on the House Homeland Security panel in July pushed legislation that would channel more resources toward rail security. They proposed spending $3 billion to improve rail and transit system security during the next six years, stating that for every $9 spent per air traveler, just a penny was spent per train passenger.

In a report preceding the legislative pitch, House Democrats argued that federal, state and local roles in securing modes of transportation like buses and trains are poorly defined. The report also criticized how few -- 100 nationally -- federal rail inspectors are employed to monitor tens of thousands of miles of track in the United States.

House Homeland Security Committee sources said, due to the heightened sensitivity of airport security following the thwarted attacks on planes traveling to the United States from Britain, federal funding and resources continue to be diverted away from rail passengers.

Committee sources also expressed concern that TSA's general manager positions overseeing rail, maritime and mass transit security are filled with acting, rather than full-time, officials.

"We do not comment on pending GAO reports," TSA spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said.

Sources at GAO said they did not know whether an investigation in response to Thompson's request has started.

Friday, August 25, 2006

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