Senate Transportation Committee approves major rail security bill; GAO recommendations incorporated

“In all candor, we probably would not be
doing anything now if it were not for Madrid,” said Sen. John McCain
(R-Ariz.), chairman of the Committee.

Earlier similar measures to strengthen rail
security had sputtered out on Capitol Hill. Passage of the latest bill,
the Rail Security Act of 2004, isn’t surprising given the newly urgent
concern about security gaps in surface transportation that are easily
exploitable and harder to gain control over than are aviation security
flaws.

The General Accounting Office (GAO) told the
Committee on March 23 that “unique challenges include the openness of
mass transit systems and the transport of hazardous materials by
freight railroads.”

Securing the nation’s rail network will not
be cheap. Peter F. Guerrero, Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues,
and Norman J. Rabkin, Managing Director, Homeland Security and Justice
Issues at the GAO, stated in joint testimony before the Committee that
both passenger and freight rail systems security enhancements “require
substantial funding.”

Customs’ cargo inspection targeting system flawed, GAO says

The methodology employed by the Department of
Homeland Security’s (DHS) Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Directorate to flag suspicious cargo containers for inspection came
under fire by the General Accounting Office (GAO) during a hearing by
House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on oversight and
investigations.

Richard M. Stana, Director of Homeland
Security and Justice Issues at GAO, told the panel, “while CBP has
taken steps to address the terrorism risks posed by oceangoing cargo
containers, its targeting strategy neither incorporates all key
elements of a risk management framework nor is consistent with certain
recognized practices associated with modeling.”

“To its credit,” the GAO’s Stana testified,
“CBP established the National Targeting Center to serve as the national
focal point for targeting imported cargo and for distributing periodic
intelligence alerts to the ports. CBP has refined its targeting system,
which was originally designed to identify narcotics contraband, to help
identify containers posing potential terrorist threats for possible
physical screening and inspection. It also instituted a national
training program for its personnel that perform targeting.”

“However,” the GAO auditor pointed out, “while
[the CBP’s] strategy incorporates some elements of risk management, CBP
has not performed a comprehensive set of threat, criticality,
vulnerability and risk assessments that experts said are vital for
determining levels of risk for each container and the types of
responses necessary to mitigate that risk.” HST

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