If Congress were to fund additional mobile security teams, they would be deployed throughout the surface and aviation transportation environments, the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) told a Senate committee on Wednesday.

“If I were to receive more VIPR teams, I would be able to put them to use and I would put them to use across the transportation system,” TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “I would deploy them more effectively with our partners in the surface world and would deploy them to more public areas of our aviation environment.”

VIPR team patrolling at Union Station in Washington, D.C., during Operation RAILSAFE in 2015. Photo: TSA
VIPR team patrolling at Union Station in Washington, D.C., during Operation RAILSAFE in 2015. Photo: TSA

VIPR stands for Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response and is made up of individuals across the various professions within TSA such as the Federal Air Marshals, canine teams, and specialists in explosives detection, to patrol venues such as special even sites like national sporting championships, mass transit stations and areas of airports. VIPR teams typically work with other stakeholders such as federal, state and local law enforcement partners.

According to TSA budget documents, in FY ’15 TSA conduced more than 12,000 VIPR operations, with 60 percent of patrols occurring in the aviation environment and 40 percent in surface environments.

Senate Democrats are considering legislation to double the number of VIPR teams from 30 to 60 in response to terrorist attacks in March in the open areas of an airport in Brussels and in a train at a metro station in the city.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the committee, said that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has endorsed the Democrats proposal for the additional VIPR teams.

In his prepared remarks, Neffenger stated that following the attacks in Brussels having VIPR teams deployed in locations around the United States “was invaluable to the surface transportation sector in providing a visible deterrent, as well as an armed response capability.”

Neffenger also stated TSA has updated the concept of operations for VIPR teams for risk-based deployments, and to “allow for flexibility based upon the most current intelligence and threat, provide scheduling parameters to enhance risk mitigation, and further enable measurement of performance and effectiveness.”

In addition to bomb-sniffing dogs, which provide a capability that Neffenger lauds, VIPR teams also may be equipped technology system for detecting explosives and nuclear materials.