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Senators seek more aid for transportation security

(The following article by Chris Strohm was posted on GovExec.com on January 6.)

WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of senators is seeking more than $1 billion to bolster security for passenger railroad and bus systems, the trucking and freight industry, tunnels, and pipelines.

Newly minted Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and ranking Republican Ted Stevens of Alaska are sponsoring a bill that will seek $1.2 billion over three years for transportation security improvements. Several provisions were included in the Senate's version of a maritime security bill last year but were removed before Congress finalized it.

"Our legislation represents a federal commitment to surface transportation security for our nation's railroads, trucks, buses and pipelines," Inouye said. "It identifies and addresses the numerous, lingering shortcomings that currently exist in these systems and provides the Transportation Security Administration with the necessary guidance needed to improve the protection of our essential transportation infrastructure."

The bill does not, however, address shortcomings in inner-city bus and subway systems.

It was not immediately clear if funding authorized in the bill would be supported by appropriators. But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., has offered legislation in the past to fund rail and transit security. A spokesman for Byrd could not be reached for comment.

Some critics argue that putting more money into surface transportation security is wasteful and not the best counter-terrorism strategy.

"I think throwing federal money at infrastructure is a loser strategy. You can't childproof the United States," said James Carafano, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "You cannot protect all your vulnerabilities and that's not the best place to invest all your money. If you put all your money in trains, they blow up schoolyards."

Carafano said a better strategy is for the federal government to invest money in counter-terrorism programs that identify terrorists and stop attacks before they are fully hatched.

The new Democratic-controlled Congress is likely to struggle with how best to spend money to improve homeland security. "It's been more than five years since [the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks], and the government still hasn't done enough to prevent a disaster on our railroads," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. "We cannot afford to delay."

The proposed bill would establish a new freight- and passenger-rail security grant program and a study on the feasibility of passenger and baggage screening. The bill also would require a program that encourages trucks carrying hazardous materials to be equipped with communications and tracking technology, and it would call for a feasibility study on developing a national response system for transportation communication alerts.

The bill also would authorize funding to upgrade Amtrak railroad tunnels in Baltimore, New York and Washington, including authorizing $400 million for improvements to the rail tunnels in the New York-New Jersey region.

Monday, January 8, 2007

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