House Subpanel Calls for DHS to Increase Rail, Transit Security Inspectors

Posted March 1, 2007 at 3:59pm

In a move designed to boost security for the nation’s railroads and mass transit systems, a House subcommittee today approved a measure that would require the Department of Homeland Security to boost its number of full-time surface transportation security inspectors by 2010.

At a House Homeland Security transportation security and infrastructure protection subcommittee markup today of the Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007, subccommittee chairwoman Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) presented an amendment calling for DHS to increase its surface transportation security inspector corps from 500 to 600 by Dec. 31, 2010.

“I, like many Americans, [am] appalled by the failure to provide a lack of ongoing and continuous oversight in transportation security. specifically in the areas of rail and mass transit,” Jackson Lee said at the markup. “I refuse to sit idly by and allow another 9/11 or Madrid, London or Mumbai bombing to disrupt our nation and its critical infrastructure.”

Jackson Lee’s amendment was unanimously approved.

The Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007 was crafted to clarify the roles and responsibilities of federal, state and local agencies in securing the rails and public transportation systems; to strengthen intelligence sharing; to lay out plans for public outreach and education initiatives; to create a framework for resuming operations in the event of an attack on the nations; to include a strategy and timeline for research and development of new security of security technologies; and to describe lessons leaned from past attacks, according to a summary of the bill.

One amendment proposed by Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.), also approved unanimously, called for increasing the training exercises held on the nation’s boarders, and an amendment proposed by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) was passed, calling for an increased use of “Visible Intermodal Protection and Response” teams to provide a “surge” capability if a terrorist attack were to occur.

VIPER teams consist of both covert and uniformed personnel used to deter criminal activity in public transportation stations.

An amendment by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), was also approved Thursday, calling for DHS to provide security training at the nation’s “premier” railroad security facilities, the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium.

In all, the Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007 authorizes that $600 million annually be spent between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2011 on grant programs dedicated to rail security. Lungren introduced an amendment that was passed, calling for these grant monies to be spent based on security risks.

In addition, an amendment introduced by Rep. Yvette Clarke (D- N.Y.), was unanimously approved that would allow labor unions to receive these grants if they were involved in such training.

Included in the amendments were two that dealt with background checks. The first one approved, sponsored by Brown-Waite, called for railroad and mass transit employees’ names to be checked against immigration and terrorist watch lists. The second, sponsored by Perlmutter, said that if a background check of a transit worker turned up a criminal record, the employee could not be fired for national security reasons unless that person’s offense explicitly dealt with matters of national security.

Beyond the amendments that were approved — all of which were by voice vote — lawmakers dismissed two proposed amendments during roll call votes.

The first, offered by Brown-Waite, would have provided greater protection for sensitive, critical infrastructure information by exempting it from the Freedom of Information Act requests. The measure was defeated, with committee members voting along party lines, except for Perlmutter, who supported the legislation.

The second amendment defeated, sponsored by Lungren, would have amended legislation on whistleblowers. All Democrats opposed the measure.

Recorded Votes

Rail and Public Transportation Security Act 2007

Brown-Waite amendment on FOIA request exemptions
Tally: 4 Yes, 4 No, 2 Not Voting

Democrats

N Jackson-Lee (Tex.)
N Markey (Mass.)
N Norton (DC)
N Clarke (N.Y.)
Y Perlmutter (Col.)

Republicans

Y Bilirakis (Fla.)
Y Brown-Waite (Fla.)
Y Lungren (Calif.)

Lungren amendment on whistleblowers
Tally: 3 Yes, 5 No, 2 Not Voting

Democrats

N Jackson-Lee (Tex.)
N Markey (Mass.)
N Norton (DC)
N Clarke (N.Y.)
N Perlmutter (Col.)

Republicans

Y Bilirakis (Fla.)
Y Brown-Waite (Fla.)
Y Lungren (Calif.)