Wednesday, April 16, 2008

House Homeland Security Hearing on TSA

The Transportation Security Agency is not something that I cover much on this blog. Yesterday’s House Homeland Security Committee hearing on the first five years of TSA and where agency is going did briefly touch on a subject that is getting more coverage here, the transportation of hazardous chemicals.

TSA Testimony

In eleven pages of prepared testimony Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley dedicated just two paragraphs to security of toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) chemicals by rail. In the first paragraph (from page 9 of his testimony) he claimed that:

"To objectively measure success in reducing the risk associated with TIH rail transportation, TSA developed a program that will track and measure the standstill time of TIH cars in high threat urban areas (HTUA)s. Using a detailed set of tracking data and comprehensive field inspections, to date TSA has been able to document a 42.9% reduction in the overall risk."

I am not sure that many people would agree with the metric that TSA is using to measure "reduction in overall risk" is really the definitive measure of risk in this case. I still see graffiti on chlorine railcars; artwork that would take longer to complete than it would to place an explosive device on the same car.

In the second paragraph he noted that DHS had published a proposed rule on designed to strengthen "security of the Nation’s freight rail systems" and that the department intended to publish the final rule later this year. It is interesting to note that the proposed rule was published in December 2006, the same time that the proposed CFATS rule was published. The final interim rule for CFATS has been in force for almost a year now.

GAO Testimony

The only other testimony that touched on hazardous chemical transportation was the prepared testimony of Cathleen A Berrick, Director , Homeland Security and Justice Issues at the GAO. Actually, Director Berrick’s prepared testimony included a great deal more information about the TSA and DHS accomplishments in the area of freight rail security than did the TSA representative’s testimony.

.The GAO prepared testimony noted that "TSA shares responsibility for securing surface transportation modes with federal, state, and local governments and the private sector." (page 4) Even within DHS TSA shares responsibilities with FEMA (grant funding) and the National Protectionand Programs Directorate (facility risk assessments). The other major federal player is the Federal Railroad Administration of the Department of Transportation.

The testimony noted that TSA is responsible for conducting threat and vulnerability assessments for a variety of surface transportation assets. It specifically noted that "TSA has conducted vulnerability assessments of rail corridors in eight High Threat Urban Areas where toxic-inhalation-hazard shipments are transported." (page 13) It also noted that TSA representatives had visited:

"…almost 300 railroad facilities including terminal and railroad yards to assess the railroads’ implementation of 17 DHS recommended Security Action Items associated with the transportation of toxic-inhalation-hazard materials."

Director Berrick also commented on the proposed rule on railroad security and noted that TSA was currently working on another proposed rule "that high-risk rail carriers conduct vulnerability assessments and develop and implement security plans." (page 15)

Increasing Role in Freight Railroad Security

Both testimonies noted that while TSA had been focusing the bulk of their effort on airline security, for obvious reasons, that they had not totally neglected fright railroad security. They both noted that there would be an increased focus on that area as TSA progressed into their second 5 years in operation.

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