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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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Monday, February 7, 2011

Changes in Airport Passenger Screening Technologies and Procedures: Frequently Asked Questions


Bart Elias
Specialist in Aviation Policy

In the autumn of 2010, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began deploying new technologies and procedures for screening passengers at airport checkpoints. Reports of negative public reaction to some of these changes have prompted intense congressional interest in TSA passenger screening. This report addresses some of these concerns.


Date of Report: January 26, 2011
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R41502
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Expenditures


John Frittelli
Specialist in Transportation Policy

In 1986, Congress enacted the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) to recover operation and maintenance (O&M) costs at U.S. coastal and Great Lakes harbors from maritime shippers. O&M is mostly the dredging of harbor channels to their authorized depths and widths. The tax is levied on importers and domestic shippers using coastal or Great Lakes ports. Due to a Supreme Court decision in 1998, exporters no longer pay the tax because it was found unconstitutional. The tax is assessed at a rate of 0.125% of cargo value ($1.25 per $1,000 in cargo value). The tax revenues are deposited into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) from which Congress appropriates funds for harbor dredging.

Despite a large surplus in the trust fund, the busiest U.S. harbors are presently under-maintained. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) estimates that full channel dimensions at the nation’s busiest 59 ports are available less than 35% of the time. This situation can increase the cost of shipping as vessels carry less cargo in order to reduce their draft or wait for high tide before transiting a harbor. It could also increase the risk of a ship grounding or collision, possibly resulting in an oil spill. To rectify this situation, some are calling for increasing disbursements from the trust fund. However, Corps data indicate that a significant portion of annual HMTF disbursements are directed towards harbors which handle little or no cargo. The Oregon Inlet in North Carolina, Grays Harbor in Washington, Humboldt Harbor in California, and the Lake Washington Ship Canal in Seattle are some of the harbors or waterways that fit this description. Commercial fishermen and recreational boat (or yacht) owners account for most, if not all, of the vessel traffic in these harbors. Fishermen and recreational boaters do not pay the HMT. Some might argue that to target one group of harbor users for assessing a fee and then to distribute revenues mostly, or entirely, in some cases, for the benefit of other users, undermines the “trust fund” and “user fee” concept. The Administration requested and Congress provided funding for a pilot program that began in FY2010 to investigate the feasibility of having non-cargo harbor users finance the dredging requirements of harbors with little or no commerce.

In addition to the distribution of HMT revenues for the benefit of non-cargo harbor users, there are also equity issues associated with HMT revenue distribution among the nation’s top commercial ports. Due to geological differences, ports vary greatly in the amount of dredging they require. About one-fifth of HMTF expenditures are spent in Louisiana. The ports of Mobile, AL, and Portland, OR also are relatively expensive to maintain. The amount of HMT revenue ports generate also varies significantly due to differences in the amount and characteristics of the cargoes they handle. Consequently, HMT revenues are redistributed from ports that are large import gateways with naturally deep channels to lower volume ports that require frequent dredging to maintain adequate channel depths and widths. The ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle, and Tacoma, and to a lesser degree, Boston, New York, and Houston are large net generators of HMT revenue. International cargo predominates at most ports. Ports compete for this cargo, and the growth of containerized cargo and the prospective expansion of the Panama Canal have intensified competition among U.S. ports.

Legislation was introduced in the 111
th Congress that had varying objectives regarding the HMT. H.R. 3447 and H.R. 4844/S. 3213 would spend down the surplus in the HMTF. H.R. 2355 would increase the tax rate and expand use of the HMTF for landside port infrastructure improvements. H.R. 3486, H.R. 638, S. 551, and S. 1509 would repeal the tax on non-bulk cargo shipped on the Great Lakes and along the coasts in an effort to divert truck cargo from congested highways to waterways. None of these bills were enacted.


Date of Report: January 10, 2011
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R41042
Price: $29.95

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