Friday, December 12, 2008

Locals Look at Transportation Security Rule

There is an interesting article on concerning how the recently published Rail Transportation Security Rule. It looks at how the new rules, which go into effect on December 26th, will affect local rail operations in Columbia County, Oregon. The most important piece of information found in this article is in the first few paragraphs. The second paragraph notes that:
“(Mike) Eyer is the sole hazardous materials compliance specialist for the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Rail Division, and the burden for making sure the state’s 200 or so handlers of hazardous cargo run safe operations over every inch of Oregon’s steel rails falls squarely on his shoulders.”
New Inspectors The article then goes on to report that Mr. Eyer is contracted to do the same inspections for the FRA, implying that he is the only hazmat compliance inspector operating in Oregon. It later notes that the inspection burden is being eased by the new regulation because the “rule provides an infusion of 200 new Federal Railroad Administration inspectors”. It would be unusual for a TSA regulation to provide for new FRA inspectors since these two organizations are in completely different cabinet departments. The only reference I can find in the rule to new inspectors is found in the discussion of comments about the chain of custody requirements. In response to a question from members of Congress about the small number of TSA inspectors available to enforce the rule, TSA reports that “TSA has deployed the 100 inspectors provided for by Congress in the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2005 (Pub. L. 108-90)” (page 72151). The preamble goes on to explain that these inspectors are deployed in 19 field offices and “cover the key rail and mass transit facilities in their regions”. It is clear that these inspectors will be charged with inspections and enforcement activities in support of this new rule in addition to their regular rail transport security duties. Lack of Enforcement Capability TSA identifies 241 rail hazardous materials facilities that will be affected by this regulation. This means that these facilities will fall under the inspection program for TSA for the first time. This is a significant increase in work load for those 100 TSA inspectors. This will be aggravated by the fact that the geographic distribution of these facilities almost certainly does not match the current distribution of inspectors in the 19 field offices. As the article notes, this is not an unusual situation. Congress has been remiss in authorizing an adequate head count for enforcement activities when they require that the executive branch write and enforce new regulations. The executive branch shares some culpability in that they do not request additional headcount when they submit their budget requests. In any case, come December 26th both Congress and DHS will point with a certain amount of pride at the additional layer of security that they have provided to the public with these new rules. But, without an adequate number of TSA inspectors to go out and look at hazmat rail facilities, to assist in the implementation and enforcement of these new rules, there is no assurance that these new rules will accomplish anything but add more paperwork to the system.

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