Surface Transportation Security at Risk Due to Poor Coordination and Reprogrammed Funds

The global terrorist threat to surface transportation, which covers freight and passenger rail, mass transit, highway, maritime and pipeline systems, has increased in recent years as demonstrated by a 2016 thwarted attack on mass transit in New Jersey and the 2017 London vehicle attacks.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) received more than $100 million a year from 2009 to 2018 for surface transportation activities. A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says surface transportation receives much less funding than aviation security and that TSA may be missing out on valuable input because its guidance doesn’t say how or when the office will coordinate with other offices.

TSA allocated most of its surface transportation program account, which was $123 million in fiscal year 2017 and $129 million in fiscal year 2018–to three offices. These were Security Operations, which received 40% of the funds; Law Enforcement and the Federal Air Marshal Service (35%); and Policy, Plans, and Engagement (19%). Altogether the surface program account represented about 1.6 percent of the agency’s appropriation in both fiscal years, according to Department of Homeland Security data.

Security Operations conducts regulatory inspections for freight and passenger rail systems, non-regulatory security assessments, and voluntary training. Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service administers the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) Program to augment the security of and promote confidence in surface transportation systems. Policy, Plans, and Engagement (PPE) develops and coordinates security policies, programs, directives, strategies, and initiatives, while overseeing industry engagement.

GAO reported on November 20 that in fiscal years 2017 through 2019, TSA reported using surface program resources for non-surface activities. For example, in fiscal year 2018, TSA reprogrammed $5 million from the Surface Programs account to the Mission Support account to address security requirements and increase hiring of transportation security officers. In that same year, about 39 percent of VIPR operations were conducted in aviation security.

The review also found that TSA has not fully identified coordination roles and responsibilities for its training and exercise program for offices outside of Policy, Plans, and Engagement (PPE) – the office with primary responsibility for the program. PPE coordinates with several other offices to accomplish the program’s goals, including the Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) office that provides intelligence briefings that give background context during program exercises. However, I&A officials told GAO that while they have supported exercise planning, there is no formal role for the office in the procedure or expected time frames for providing information. As a result, I&A officials stated that they do not typically participate in the PPE planning meetings because they are not consistently invited to attend.

GAO has therefore recommended that TSA should clarify roles and responsibilities for all offices involved in the coordination of surface transportation exercises, including when these offices are to coordinate, as part of the planned revision of the Surface Division’s Internal Operating Procedure for I-STEP, the Intermodal Security Training and Exercise Program. DHS concurred and expects to action this by May 29 2020.

Read the full report at GAO

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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