Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.), the second ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, on Tuesday introduced legislation that would increase funding for transportation security grants, add more federal mobile security teams and bomb-sniffing dogs, and provide other measures to better secure surface transportation assets.
The Surface Transportation and Public Area Security Act of 2017 would authorize $400 million annually for the Transportation Security Grant Program (TSGP), authorize at least 60 Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams, add at least 200 canine explosive detection teams, add funding and training for law enforcement, and ensure continued funding for surface transportation inspectors.
“Terrorists have targeted soft targets such as subways, mass transit stations, and public airport areas in the United States and abroad,” Watson Coleman, ranking member on the House Homeland Security Transportation and Protective Security Subcommittee, said on Tuesday in her opening statement during a field hearing in Trenton, N.J. “The emergence of a class of would-be terrorists, who with little to no training, financial support, or direction carry out ‘crimes of opportunity’ against innocent people demands greater vigilance and collaboration at all levels of government.”
She said the Trump administration is proposing to cut the TSGP from $88 million in FY ’17 to $48 million in FY ’18, and the number of Transportation Security Administration VIPR teams from the current 31 to eight.
Thomas Netsel, chief of Transit Police for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), told the panel that the TSGP is the authority’s “most effective federal security partnership,” providing funding for security cameras, surveillance equipment, training, hazardous materials identification kits and explosive detection devices, communications equipment, and bulletproof vests.
“Like most federal programs, demand for TSGP far outpaces available funding, and funding nationally for TSGP has dropped by 75 percent since 2009,” Netsel said in his written remarks. “If not for SEPTA absorbing the cost, critical security and antiterrorism activities would go unfunded.”
For the explosives detection dog teams, the bill would authorize $23.9 million in FY ’18 and $20.3 million annually through FY ’22 to add at least 200 more teams dedicated to surface transportation security.
The 26-page bill also authorizes research and development spending for technologies in support of transportation security, and TSA’s Innovation Task Force to examine technologies and capabilities to enhance surface transportation security. Currently, the task force is focused on aviation security.