Following the House’s approval last month of legislation to further implement recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, the Senate has begun work on similar legislation. The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection continued its discussion of rail and public transportation security this week, following similar hearings last week in the Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee last week.
The London and Madrid bombings demonstrated that transportation systems are a primary focus of terrorist groups. Yet in America, only $55 million and 300 inspectors are dedicated to securing air cargo on passenger aircraft, a tiny fraction of the resources devoted to overall aviation security.
Last month, the Center’s own P.J. Crowley released a report detailing what specific actions America needs to take to become safer. His comprehensive analysis includes key guidelines for tightening transportation security in addition to guidelines for shoring up our critical infrastructure, emergency response, border security, and intelligence.
The critical areas where we need increased commitment are:
- Emergency Preparedness and Response. The federal government needs to significantly increase federal homeland security grants in order to support the country’s security and preparedness requirements as well as provide more first-operability.
- Critical Infrastructure. The Department of Homeland Security needs to restrict the National Asset Database to those facilities that are actually critical. Congress must strengthen recently enacted chemical security authorities to eliminate most chemical facility exemptions to increased security standards and include transportation of hazardous materials in security planning.
- Private Sector Preparedness. Congress and the Bush administration need to create market-based incentives to encourage the private sector to more aggressively address security vulnerabilities and adopt mitigation strategies, including a long-term terrorism risk insurance program and a more detailed publicly-traded company reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission and shareholders on terrorism risk.
- Transportation Security. Given the ongoing threat to aviation, the Transportation Security Administration needs more resources to expand physical inspection of air cargo and validate security steps taken at major domestic airports and within air cargo supply chains. Air cargo should be incorporated into major domestic airport planning for in-line passenger luggage explosive detection screening.
- Border Security. Congress needs to continue to support more U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents along borders and at ports of entry, equipped with better technology, real-time information, and organizational support. Congress should strengthen its oversight of the Customs and Border Protection’s automated tracking system. Congress should also modify the so-called Basic Pilot program to allow real-time and secure verification of social security numbers.
- Domestic Intelligence. Congress should authorize the addition of a Deputy Director of National Intelligence to oversee the overlapping federal domestic intelligence responsibilities and fully implement the national information-sharing environment. The Bush administration should establish a so-called COPS II program to improve local intelligence capabilities and links among federal, state, and local governments.
- Non-Proliferation. DHS should expand current efforts to deploy a real-time urban nuclear, chemical, and biological detection system in all major metropolitan areas. This system should be backed by a stronger oversight process, including improved forensic technology to identify the source of dangerous materials that might be employed by a rogue element against the United States.
As the House Homeland Security Committee discusses our transportation today, they must keep all of these factors in mind.
Congress can significantly tighten our transportation security and therefore out national security in the next 10 to 15 years by increasing funding for in-line explosives-detection-system equipment in airports, more thorough bulk air cargo inspections, and heightened precautions for all cargo transported in the United States.
As long these recommendations are not heeded, America remains vulnerable. We must act now to make America safer.
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