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Monday, February 14, 2011

Transportation Security: Issues for the 112th Congress

David Randall Peterman
Analyst in Transportation Policy

Bart Elias
Specialist in Aviation Policy

John Frittelli
Specialist in Transportation Policy

The nation’s air, land, and marine transportation systems are designed for accessibility and efficiency, two characteristics that make them highly vulnerable to terrorist attack. While hardening the transportation sector from terrorist attack is difficult, measures can be taken to deter terrorists. The dilemma facing Congress is how best to construct and finance a system of deterrence, protection, and response that effectively reduces the possibility and consequences of another terrorist attack without unduly interfering with travel, commerce, and civil liberties.

Aviation security has been a major focus of transportation security policy following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of these attacks, the 107
th Congress moved quickly to pass the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA; P.L. 107-71) creating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and mandating a federalized workforce of security screeners to inspect airline passengers and their baggage. The 110th Congress passed legislation to extend the existing authorization of such sums as may be necessary for TSA’s aviation security functions through FY2011 (see P.L. 110-53, section 1618). Reauthorization of TSA functions may be considered in the broader context of a Department of Homeland Security reauthorization bill during the 112th Congress. Issues likely to arise include deployment of new checkpoint screening technologies; passenger screening procedures; implementation of the Secure Flight system to check passenger data against the consolidated terrorist database; air cargo security measures; and strengthening security of general aviation aircraft and airports.

Bombings of passenger trains in Europe and Asia in the past few years illustrate the vulnerability of passenger rail systems to terrorist attacks. Passenger rail systems—primarily subway systems—in the United States carry about five times as many passengers each day as do airlines, over many thousands of miles of track, serving stations that are designed primarily for easy access. In 2010, Congress expressed concern about the slow rate at which federal funds for transit and rail security were being expended. If the 112
th Congress revisits the issue, it may consider the effectiveness of rail and transit security efforts to date, the potential for meaningful security improvement in this area, and its importance relative to other federal priorities.
Existing law mandates the scanning of all U.S.-bound maritime containers with non-intrusive inspection equipment at overseas ports of loading by July 2012. This deadline is unlikely to be met, as foreign countries object to the costs of this screening and are dubious of the benefits. If Congress considers maritime security, it may examine the usefulness of this mandate, as well as the threat posed by the many small craft that populate commercial port areas and progress toward establishing harbor interagency operational centers.

Date of Report: February 1, 2011
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: RL33512
Price: $29.95

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