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TSA chief defends rail, mass transit security measures

(The following article by Terry Kivlan of CongressDaily was posted on GovExec.com on February 6.)

WASHINGTON -- Transportation Security Administration Administrator Kip Hawley on Tuesday sought to blunt Democratic allegations that his agency had neglected rail and mass transit security while focusing most of its attention on the terrorist threat to aviation.

“Effective measures are in place” to protect rail systems, Hawley said in appearance before the House Homeland Security Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee. Whereas the government provides for all the security personnel in the aviation sector, “most of the people in the rail and transit environment are paid-for locally,” he explained, adding that in the case of these systems, federal aid comes in the form of sharing information and technical assistance, and “does not include direct ... financial support.”

Top subcommittee Democrats, however, skewered TSA for failing to produce the comprehensive rail mass transit security plan mandated by a 2003 White House executive order. “It is three years overdue,” said Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

Citing the bombings in London, Madrid and Mumbai, India, over the past several years as examples of the threat to rail networks, House Homeland Security Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee Chairwoman Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said she found it “completely appalling that the [Bush] administration seems to be unwilling to act on rail and mass transit security until we are faced with another disaster.”

She charged that TSA had paid “completely lopsided attention ... to aviation security at the expense of rail and mass transit security.” Republicans on the subcommittee, which is due to start considering a yet-to-be-introduced rail security package later this year, agreed that more needed to be done to protect rail systems but stopped short of accusing TSA of neglecting them.

“I don’t think we are ever going to have the same level of security that we have in aviation,” said Homeland Security ranking member Peter King, R-N.Y. “It’s comparing apples and oranges.”

Hawley said that TSA did not “segregate” its security initiatives by transportation mode, but rather worked with intelligence and law enforcement agencies to disrupt terrorist plots at the earliest possible point no matter where they were detected. “We know that attack planning can start out directed one way and then change as it moves along,” he testified, adding that the “most effective way to stop attacks is a the front end -- to find the people at the planning stage and stop them there.”

As a “second layer of defense” in the case of rail, he said TSA had completed assessments of individual systems and had identified top priorities for attention, mainly high density passenger transit systems in large cities with underwater or underground tunnels, and unattended rail cars containing highly toxic chemicals.

Hawley said the TSA security measures for rail also included dispatching squads of federal marshals, canine teams and security inspectors at the invitation of local officials.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

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