Biden, Carper Say Legislation is Long Overdue
Sep 14 2006
WASHINGTON (Sept. 14, 2006) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved new homeland security legislation designed to increase security for our nation’s seaports, as well as our rail and transit lines. The legislation actually melds together parts of different bills Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Joe Biden, D-Del., have proposed over the last several years in an attempt to increase the attention being paid to port, rail and transit security, which have taken a back seat to airline safety since 9-11. “September 11th taught us that terrorists are unlikely to strike us with conventional military weapons,” Sen. Biden said. “Experts agree the next attack is likely to come from a bomb in a backpack or a homemade nuclear device smuggled into a port in a cargo container. While we need to do more – like implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations – this bipartisan bill does a good job of broadening our security focus outside just airline travel to our seaports, rails and transit systems.” “After 9-11, we developed a comprehensive approach to airline security in this country that is constantly being updated and improved upon. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for our ports, rail lines and transit systems,” said Carper. “This legislation is long overdue. The truth is, Congress and the Bush administration have resisted efforts by many of us to beef up security at sites like the Port of Wilmington or along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. This bill does more than just throw money at the problem, however. It will require DHS to think outside the box and come up with new and creative ways to secure some of the most vital transportation hubs and systems in this country.” Port Security The bill would authorize a $400 million a year grant program for security at ports, while also requiring the DHS to conduct a risk analysis of our nation’s busiest ports. In addition, the legislation would require – by December 2007 – that all containers entering the U.S. through the busiest 22 ports be examined for radiation. In addition, the bill includes language that would require the DHS to fully implement a worker-identification program at 10 ports by next summer and at all ports by Jan. 1, 2009. The screening program is designed to weed out port workers with a possible terrorist connection from having access to sensitive areas at our ports. The Port of Wilmington was one of three ports that participated in a pilot program for this new screening system, which was supposed to have been in place this summer but has been delayed. Since then, DHS has canceled the pilot program. This language would make sure that this important program gets back on track and implemented in a timely fashion. Rail Security The legislation also includes language sponsored by Sens. Biden and Carper that would authorize $1.15 billion over four years for passenger and freight rail security activities, including both capital improvements and operating security grants for rail carriers and for Amtrak tunnel upgrades along the Northeast Corridor. The legislation also requires the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to conduct vulnerability assessments of freight and passenger rail and develop recommendations for improving rail security within 180 days of enactment and updating them every 2 years. TSA is also directed to analyze the cost and feasibility of requiring security screening for passengers, baggage, and cargo on passenger trains and submit its findings to Congress within in a year. Additionally, DHS is required to work with TSA and Department of Transportation to develop plans for the transport of high-hazard materials near “high-consequence targets” and to encourage deployment of equipment that tracks high hazard materials. Transit Security Finally, this legislation would authorize $3.5 billion over four years for both capital improvements and operating security grants for local public transit agencies. Under the legislation, the Federal Transit Administration must do a threat assessment and submit it to DHS for review by July 31, 2007. That report would be used as a basis for allocating security grant funding.