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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
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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tolling of Interstate Highways: Issues in Brief



Robert S. Kirk
Specialist in Transportation Policy

The prohibition of tolling of federal-aid highways dates back to the Federal Road Act of 1916 (39 Stat. 355). Subsequent legislation modified the prohibition to the point where now the only significant part of the federal-aid highway system under the toll prohibition is the Interstate Highway System, comprising approximately 47,000 miles of the roughly 1-million-mile federalaid highway system. Congress, in approving the Federal-Aid Highway Act and Highway Revenue Act of 1956 (P.L. 84-621; 70 Stat. 374), rejected the use of tolls to finance construction in favor of creating a highway trust fund supported by dedicated fuel taxes. However, 2,102 miles of tolled expressway segments were incorporated into the Interstate Highway System in 1957, and these segments are not covered by the tolling prohibition.

In recent years, the revenues flowing into the highway trust fund have been insufficient to maintain even current levels of federal funding for highways. Political resistance to raising the federal fuels tax is high. The fuel taxes dedicated to the highway trust fund, currently 18.3 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.3 cents per gallon of diesel fuel, were last raised in 1993.

Historically, interest in toll financing has increased during periods of constrained federal funding. Since the Interstate highways make up nearly all federal-aid highway segments that are still under the tolling prohibition, advocates of expanded use of tolling focus their efforts on giving states more flexibility to impose tolls on the Interstates within their borders.

On July 6, 2012, President Barack Obama signed into law the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21
st Century Act (MAP-21; P.L. 112-141). The act made modest changes to the Interstate highway tolling prohibition.


Date of Report: February 13, 2013
Number of Pages: 7
Order Number: R42404
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Monday, February 25, 2013

Public Transportation Program and Funding Issues



William J. Mallett
Specialist in Transportation Policy

The federal public transportation program, administered by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), is the primary means by which the federal government funds and regulates public transportation, such as local buses, subways, and ferries. The program was reauthorized through FY2014 as part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21; P.L. 112- 141) with funding set at $10.6 billion in FY2013 and $10.7 billion in FY2014. About 80% of the funding for the federal public transportation program comes from the mass transit account of the highway trust fund and about 20% from the general fund of the U.S. Treasury, although the mass transit account, itself, has required transfers from the general fund. A $4.8 billion transfer of general funds was made in FY2010, and MAP-21 authorized another transfer of $2.2 billion in FY2014.

MAP-21 simplifies the structure of the public transit program by eliminating some programs and consolidating others. The law also recasts some discretionary programs as formula programs, strengthens FTA’s role in safety oversight, and introduces performance management into the planning process. FTA’s six major funding programs and their funding shares are: (1) Urbanized Area Formula, 42%; (2) State of Good Repair (SGR), 20%; (3) New Starts, 18%; (4) Rural Area Formula, 6%; (5) Bus and Bus Facilities Formula, 4%; and (6) Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities, 2%.

Because the authorization of the public transportation program expires September 30, 2014, it is likely that extension or reauthorization legislation will be considered in the 113
th Congress. Funding levels and revenue sources, particularly as they relate to the highway trust fund, will probably be issues in the debate. The federal budget deficit has put pressure on many areas of federal spending, including public transportation assistance. Some Members of Congress have urged that transit spending be supported mostly at the local level. Others argue for higher federal spending to address a backlog of capital expenditures, growing transit and paratransit ridership, and the desirability of encouraging use of public transportation. There has also been pressure to increase federal support of operating expenditures due to budget problems at the local level.

An obstacle to greater federal spending, however, is the condition of the highway trust fund. Over the past few years the revenue flowing to the mass transit account has been less than its outlays, a situation that is expected to continue under current law. The primary revenue source for the highway trust fund, the fuels tax, was last raised in 1993 and there appears to be little appetite to raise it now. The precarious situation of the mass transit account may require some action before the end of FY2014, depending on the actual amounts of revenue and outlays, but action will almost certainly be needed in FY2015 and beyond. This might involve a cut in program spending, an increase in revenues paid in to the account, or another transfer from the general fund.

Other issues that may come up in the debate are privatization and the operation of the New Starts program. Privatization, such as competitive contracting, is frequently touted as a means of controlling costs and improving quality in public transportation. Consequently there have been proposals in Congress for the federal government to promote greater private-sector involvement, and these might come up again in reauthorization. MAP-21 made several changes to the New Starts program to speed project delivery and to allow spending on expanding existing transit rail and other fixed guideway systems. How well these changes work may be an issue in reauthorization, as might the types of projects funded, particularly streetcar and bus rapid transit projects.



Date of Report: February 22, 2013
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R42966
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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Railroad Retirement Board: Retirement, Survivor, Disability, Unemployment, and Sickness Benefits



Scott Szymendera
Analyst in Disability Policy

The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) administers retirement, survivor, disability, unemployment, and sickness insurance for railroad workers and their families. This report describes Railroad Retirement Act (RRA) and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) eligibility requirements, benefit types and compensation amounts, and program financing. This report also covers temporary extended railroad unemployment benefits enacted since 2009.

During FY2012, the RRB paid $11.3 billion in retirement and survivor benefits to about 573,000 beneficiaries. Unemployment and sickness benefits totaling $89 million, including over $7 million in temporary extended unemployment benefits, were paid to approximately 26,000 claimants.



Date of Report: January 25, 2013
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RS22350
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Monday, February 4, 2013

Public Transportation New Starts Program: Background



William J. Mallett
Specialist in Transportation Policy

The New Starts program is a discretionary funding program for the construction of new fixedguideway public transportation systems and the expansion of existing systems. Eligible projects include transit rail, including subway/elevated rail (heavy rail), light rail, and commuter rail, as well as bus rapid transit (BRT) and ferries. Public transportation, as defined in federal law, does not include transportation by school bus, intercity bus, or intercity passenger rail (Amtrak).

The New Starts program is one element of the federal public transportation program that is administered by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) within the Department of Transportation. In July 2012, the New Starts program was reauthorized through FY2014 as part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21
st Century Act (MAP-21; P.L. 112-141). Funding is authorized at $1.9 billion for FY2013 and FY2014, or about 18% of the overall federal public transportation program budget. Unlike FTA’s other major programs, funding for the New Starts program comes from the general fund of the U.S. Treasury, not the mass transit account of the highway trust fund. Moreover, the New Starts program provides discretionary funding whereas the other major programs provide funding by formula.

The program underwent several significant changes in MAP-21:


  • Funding can now be used for substantial investments in existing fixed guideway lines that increase the capacity of a corridor by at least 10%, termed “core capacity improvement projects.” MAP-21 also authorizes the evaluation and funding of a program of interrelated projects. 
  • MAP-21 retains the definition of Small Starts projects as those costing less than $250 million and seeking $75 million or less in federal funding. But MAP-21 does not specifically reserve funding for Small Starts projects as was the case in prior law. 
  • MAP-21 simplifies the New Starts process by reducing the number of major stages from four to three. The new stages are termed project development, engineering, and construction. 
  • MAP-21 eliminates the alternatives analysis that is separate from the alternatives analysis required by National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). 
  • MAP-21 provides FTA with authority to advance projects more quickly in certain circumstances. 

A recent focus of both Administration and congressional concern has been the rating scheme by which projects are evaluated, particularly the notion of cost effectiveness. Among other things, MAP-21 changes the definition of cost effectiveness from incremental travel time saved to cost per rider. This would likely improve the rating of projects that generally provide shorter trips, such as streetcars.


Date of Report: January 17, 2013
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: R42921
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