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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Transportation Security: Issues for the 113th 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. Despite extensive focus on aviation security over the past decade, a number of challenges remain, including

  • effectively screening passengers, baggage, and cargo for explosive threats; 
  • developing effective risk-based methods for screening passengers and others with access to aircraft and sensitive areas; 
  • exploiting available intelligence information and watchlists to identify individuals who pose potential threats to civil aviation; 
  • developing effective strategies for addressing aircraft vulnerabilities to shoulderfired missiles and other standoff weapons; and 
  • addressing the potential security implications of unmanned aircraft operations in domestic airspace. 

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. Transit security issues of recent interest to Congress that may continue in the 113th Congress include the quality of TSA’s surface transportation inspector program and the slow rate at which transit and rail security grants have been expended.

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 was not met, in part because foreign countries object to the costs of this screening and are dubious of the benefits. The usefulness of this mandate, as well as continuing difficulties in fully implementing the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) for port and maritime workers, continues to be of interest to Congress.

Date of Report: January 11, 2013
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: RL33512
Price: $29.95

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