Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Senate Committee Amends and Approves S 763

Earlier today the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a markup hearing where they amended and subsequently approved S 763, the Surface and Maritime Transportation Security Act by a voice vote. Sen. Thune (R,SD) offered substitute language for the bill which was further amended by an amendment offered by Sen. Baldwin (D,WI). This bill is similar to S 3379 that was introduced in the 114th Congress. That bill was not considered during the last session.

This bill is public transportation centric with little or no mention of issues related to the secure transportation of hazardous chemicals. In fact, there are only two areas of the bill that specifically touch on this area:

§19 – Voluntary use of credentialing; and
§20 – Background records checks for issuance of hazmat licenses.

The one other area of potential interest to readers of this blog will be the requirement for TSA to establish a surface transportation workers training program for all operators and frontline employees specifically identified in §16 of the bill.

TSA Credentials

The first allows any person that is subject to a background investigation required by a TSA supported program to voluntarily meet that requirement by applying for and receiving a Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC). This section specifically mentions Hazardous Material Endorsements (HME) for commercial drivers’ license and personnel working at a CFATS covered facility as TSA background investigation requirements for which a TWIC can be used as proof of having the appropriate background investigation.

Section 20 specifically states that an individual who holds a valid TWIC “shall be deemed to have met background records check requirement” to be issued an HME.

Security Awareness Training

Section 16 would require TSA to establish a security awareness training program for specific surface transportation employees {§16(g)}. The training would be required to address “the skills necessary to recognize, assess, and respond to suspicious items or actions that could indicate a threat to transportation” {§16(c)}.

In establishing the requirements for this training program the TSA is required to examine existing security training programs (both required and voluntary) and determine if any gaps in those training programs exist.

Interestingly there is no reference to the current requirement for TSA to establish much more expansive security training programs for over-the-road bus operators {49 USC 1584.115}; freight rail {§1580.115} and public transportation and passenger rail {§1582.115}. TSA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for these requirements in December, 2016 and extended the comment period last month.

Grant Programs

The bill does provide authorization for a variety of existing surface transportation security grant programs. It authorizes a base amount for each year ($250 Million for 2018 increasing to $325 Million for 2021) and an equal or greater additional amount each year that the DHS Secretary certifies that grant approval process “adequate reflects the results of the risk-based assessment and risk-based strategy” outlined in the bill. Half of the grant monies would be reserved for the Port Security Grant Program.


Moving Forward

Thune is the Chair of the Committee and his concern with moving this bill forward can be seen in the rapidity with which the Committee held this markup. The bipartisan support for this bill within the Committee is a clear indication that there should be little or no opposition to this bill if it were to make it to the floor of the Senate. This bill is, however, unlikely to be considered under the unanimous consent process due to the inclusion of the authorization of funds for a variety of transportation security grant programs. This probably means at least a couple days of debate and amendments when it is considered.

This bill is up against a number of arguably more important issues that the Senate will have to deal with in the near future. A FY 2017 spending bill (or at least a continuing resolution) needs to be sent to the President by April 28th and then work must begin on the FY 2018 spending bills. There are still a large number of presidential appointees that must be approved by the Senate and it would seem that few of them will be controversy free.

The Senate is unlikely to consider this bill any earlier than June.

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