WASHINGTON—Rail transportation and other mass transit are particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks, yet President Donald Trump has proposed cutting the surface transportation security budget in half, a member of a Senate subcommittee on surface transportation security said Tuesday.
Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the subcommittee, and other committee members pointed to recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States, including an attempted bomb attack in the New York City subway on Dec. 11, as evidence of the seriousness of the threat.
Peters said he is concerned that the current $100 million for surface transportation security would be cut to $48 million under Trump’s budget request and would weaken the TSA’s security capabilities while the number of threats continues to rise.
TSA Administrator David Pekoske said the cuts to surface transportation security mostly affect Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams, officers who patrol airports, trains, subways and port to enhance security and surveil for potential threats.
“TSA’s different role in security for surface transportation versus aviation is understandably reflected in its annual appropriation,” said Department of Homeland Security Acting Inspector General John Kelly in his prepared remarks. “Although TSA’s budget for surface transportation is small compared to the aviation sector, the nation realizes a significant return from this investment.”
While the TSA manages all aviation security, it plays a supporting role for surface transportation security, coordinating and training local law enforcement agencies.
“In the budget, there’s never enough there, for sure,” Pekoske said. “As I look at the threats across the entire transportation spectrum, the threats to aviation are so significant.”
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., pressed Pekoske and Kelly on what the TSA is doing in response to the results of a test in which many covert agents posing as travelers successfully passed weapons through TSA security checkpoints.
“I think it’s time to re-examine our transportation security strategy and refocus our efforts,” Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said.
Pekoske and Kelly said they support the subcommittee’s approval of a measure that would expand the use of explosive detection canine teams.
Pekoske also said new technologies will be the best solution to security gaps, mostly in new CT scanner investments and asking passengers to empty more items from bags to declutter image scans.