Thursday, May 7, 2009

HR 2200 Mark-Up 05-06-07

Yesterday the Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection of the House Homeland Security Committee held a mark-up hearing for HR 2200, the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act. The bill was introduced last week by Rep. Jackson-Lee, the subcommittee chair. Four amendments were considered by the committee, two passed on roll-call votes without dissent, as did the amended bill. The other two amendments were withdrawn, pending further action. According to the opening statement of Chairwoman Jackson-Lee this bill is part of Chairman Thompson’s plan to pass authorizing legislation for the Department of Homeland Security. This would be the first time since the department was formed in 2002 that Congress had passed such legislation. According to Ms Jackson-Lee’s statement, an “authorization bill demonstrates a core constitutional function of Congress and lays important markers for the Executive Branch.” Given the extreme partisanship seen to date in the 111th Congress, it is a pleasant surprise to see a truly bipartisan bill working its way through the House. The ranking member, Mr. Dent (R, PA) is an original co-sponsor of the bill, along with Chairman Thompson. Throughout the hearing, members from both sides of the aisle remarked on the bipartisan nature of the support for this bill. And there was not a single ‘No’ vote on either roll-call vote during the hearing. Increasing Ground Transportation Focus The drafters of this bill are trying to change the focus of the TSA from primarily air transportation security to transportation security in general. One of the ways in which they have attempted to accomplish this refocusing effort is to establish a Surface Transportation Security Inspection Office. This will make the surface inspection force more cohesive and “ensure that inspectors are no longer diverted to aviation activities”. Additionally the bill would authorize an additional 300 Surface Transportation Security Inspectors and outlines how the inspection force would be organized. The Act would also establish a Surface Transportation Security Advisory Committee to “give them [surface transportation security stakeholders] a formal outlet for giving TSA feedback on security issues”. Additionally, the legislation would require the formation of the Passenger Rail And Public Transportation Security Working Group and the Freight Rail Security Working Group to address the specific needs of those stakeholder communities. Finally, the proposed bill would direct the DHS Secretary to explain why there has been no apparent action on the three training regulation requirements specified in the 9/11 Commission Act. As I noted in an earlier blog, that act required TSA to develop security training regulations for passenger rail, freight rail, and commercial bus transportation. The deadlines specified in the act for publication of those regulations all passed in 2008. Moving Forward The authorization bill issue is obviously important to Chairman Thompson, so I expect to see a full committee mark-up in the next couple of weeks. Ms Jackson-Lee promised Mr. Lungren (R, CA) that she would work with him on his withdrawn amendment on surface transportation screening procedures so that it would more completely address the concerns that he had identified in this area. They agreed that the revised amendment would be submitted as part of the whole committee mark-up.

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