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  4. Statement for the Record of the TSA for a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Healthcare, District of Columbia, Census, and the National Archives hearing titled “WMATA: Is there a Security Gap?"

Statement for the Record, Transportation Security Administration, before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Healthcare, District of Columbia, Census, and the National Archives, "WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority): Is there a Security Gap?"

Release Date: June 27, 2011

June 24, 2011

Rayburn House Office Building


Good (morning/afternoon), Chairman Gowdy, Ranking Member Davis and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) surface transportation programs.

As you know, TSA’s efforts in the surface transportation domain are undertaken to reduce security vulnerabilities and to strengthen resilience against terrorist attacks. In this domain, which includes passenger rail as well as such mass transit systems as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), we work collaboratively with public and private sector partners to develop and to implement programs that promote efficiency while enhancing security and mitigating the risk to our nation’s transportation systems. We strive to maximize participation from state, local, tribal, and industry interests with a common goal of securing all modes of transportation.

DHS's Mission to Prevent Terrorism and Enhance Security

The primary mission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – Preventing Terrorism and Enhancing Security – is strongly supported by TSA and is aligned with DHS’s programmatic activities and organizational structure as found in the 2010 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review and corresponding Bottom-Up Review Report.

TSA helps to secure and safeguard mass transit and passenger railroads through a variety of programs that enhance security, increase coordination, and maximize partner strengths and capabilities. Due to the large populations and substantial infrastructure served by mass transit and national railroad systems, these networks remain a target for terrorist groups. Moreover, an open architecture connecting millions of passengers in major metropolitan areas creates inherent potential security vulnerabilities and challenges. To address these challenges, TSA employs advanced risk-based, intelligence-driven techniques, and partners with other law enforcement agencies to reduce the vulnerability of these transportation systems and ultimately prevent terrorist attacks.

Coordinating Security Efforts through Grants, Partnership Programs

Over the past several years, DHS has been working to develop the homeland security enterprise in order to better defend against evolving terrorist threats. The new architecture includes an emphasis on collaboration across all levels of government as well as in concert with private industry and the American public.

DHS fosters regional security coordination and integrates the spectrum of available resources for enhanced deterrent and response capabilities while empowering our state and local partners through grant programs like the Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP). Since FY 2006, WMATA has received over $100 million in TSGP funding. These resources have been directed toward employee security training as well as K-9 and anti-terrorism teams. Funds have also been used to maintain closed-circuit television (CCTV) and intelligent video for Metro stations, tunnels, and trains. In addition, security on the Metro Bus system has been strengthened through grants that support CCTV, driver authentication, remote disabling.

TSA also works to improve security with stakeholders outside of the federal government. Key partners include trade groups representing mass transit and passenger railroad interests and the mass transit and passenger railroad agencies as well as senior executives, law enforcement chiefs, and emergency responders. The sector partnership model under the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP) provides a strong framework for TSA to work with other federal, state, local and private sector partners on critical infrastructure protection and resilience, especially in the area of surface transportation. For example, WMATA participates in the regional alliance known as RAILSAFE, which is a collaborative multi-force, multi-agency security surge throughout the Northeast corridor that includes Amtrak Police, TSA personnel, and law enforcement officers from federal, state, local, rail and transit police agencies.

We are also making considerable progress engaging the public in transportation security. DHS launched the “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign last summer to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism, crime and other threats, and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities – our initial launch partner was Amtrak. This campaign is being expanded to places where the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI) is being implemented, to ensure that calls to authorities will be handled appropriately in an environment where robust privacy and civil liberties protections are in place. The NSI is active in every state including the District of Columbia and the entire National Capital Region (NCR).

In addition, TSA has promulgated a final rule that strengthens the process by which individuals can report problems, deficiencies, or vulnerabilities related to transportation security including the security of aviation, commercial motor vehicles, maritime, pipelines, public transportation, and railroad carriers. The rule establishes a mechanism by which an individual who makes such a report to the TSA Contact Center will receive either a written receipt or a call identification number. The receipt mechanism will allow individuals who identify and report deficiencies in security measures to have documentation to confirm their reporting. The processes set forth in the rule provide a layer of protection for surface transportation employees who report concerns to TSA and are subsequently subject to retaliation, discharge, or discrimination by their employers.

Using Intelligence to Improve Surface Transportation Security

Information sharing is critical to getting resources and intelligence into the hands of state and local law enforcement, giving those on the frontlines the tools they need to protect local communities. Timely, accurate intelligence and security information is provided by TSA to mass transit and passenger railroad agency officials through joint efforts among DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis, TSA Office of Intelligence, and FBI classified intelligence and analysis briefings. Consumers of such information include mass transit and passenger railroad security directors and law enforcement chiefs in major metropolitan areas, including Washington, DC, as well as Amtrak.

For example, last October the FBI disrupted a plot by Farooque Ahmed to attack WMATA Metrorail stations. Ahmed was recently sentenced to 23 years in prison by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia after pleading guilty to involvement in planning those attacks.

Intelligence products are provided to partners through TSA Mass Transit Security Awareness Messages as well as through the Joint Terrorism Task Force network’s secure video teleconferencing system. TSA is constantly working with our partners to enhance the scope, accuracy, timeliness, and efficiency of information sharing in order to develop a comprehensive intelligence and security information sharing platform, while always bearing privacy and civil liberties protections in mind.

Collaborative Risk Assessment Initiatives

TSA is developing and fielding a risk assessment capability focused on individual mass transit and passenger railroad agencies, their regional security partners, and connecting and adjoining transportation systems. This effort aims to produce several risk and vulnerability assessment tools integrated into a single platform so that TSA, in collaboration with the Science and Technology Directorate, can conduct joint assessments of mass transit and passenger railroad agencies, employ resources more efficiently, and improve the audit process.

By conducting baseline and collaborative risk assessments in the mass transit and passenger railroad domains, TSA is able to engage state and local partners to assist them in identifying ways to reduce vulnerabilities, assess risk and improve security. These assessments are conducted with emphasis on the 100 largest mass transit and passenger railroad systems in terms of passenger volume and account for more than 80 percent of all users of public transportation nationwide. TSA implements this continuous improvement process through its Transportation Security Inspectors, who conduct the Baseline Assessment for Security Enhancement (BASE) assessments in partnership with the mass transit and passenger railroad agencies' security chiefs and directors. These evaluations have significantly contributed to an elevation in the mass transit and passenger railroad security posture. When TSA inspectors observe exceptional practices being performed by transit agencies as part of their security program, TSA compiles these practices and takes appropriate measures to share those practices with other transit agencies. WMATA provided four Smart Practices to TSA’s Compilation of Smart Security Practices for Transit Agencies and placed within the top tier for effective security measures for the past two BASE assessments.

Promoting Surface Transportation Security

TSA operates 25 Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) multi-modal teams. These teams consist of personnel with expertise in inspection, behavior detection, security screening, and law enforcement for random, unpredictable deployments throughout the transportation sector to deter potential terrorist acts. Working alongside local transportation security and law enforcement agencies throughout the transportation domain, TSA’s VIPR teams enhance the agency’s ability to leverage a variety of resources quickly in order to increase security in any mode of transportation anywhere in the country. TSA conducted more than 8,400 VIPR operations in the past 12 months, including more than 4,200 operations in mass transit and passenger railroad venues. VIPR operational plans are developed with a risk-based methodology in conjunction with local transportation security stakeholders and conducted jointly by TSA, local law enforcement, and transportation security resources. To enhance the security of mass transit and passenger rail systems within the District of Columbia, more than 160 VIPR operations have been conducted this fiscal year. WMATA is one of the more active participants in the VIPR program and has conducted 69 VIPR operations with TSA in FY 2011. Amtrak and VRE are also actively involved with VIPR operations to enhance the security of the district.

In compliance with federal law, TSA has created the Intermodal Security Training and Exercise Program (I-STEP). I-STEP enhances the preparedness of our nation’s surface-transportation network with meaningful evaluations of prevention, preparedness, and ability to respond to terrorist-related incidents by increasing awareness, improving processes, creating partnerships, and delivering transportation security training and exercises. TSA has assembled a team of federal agencies and commercial vendors to provide planning and strategic support as well as analytical and technical services for transportation security training and exercises under the I-STEP program. Through outreach, TSA engages all modes of the intermodal transportation community to continuously improve security readiness. WMATA was a principal participant in the first TSA Mass Transit I-STEP exercise conducted for the NCR.

TSA and the representatives of the Transit Policing and Security Peer Advisory Group (PAG) also work together to enhance coordination and the deterrent effects of VIPR team operations. WMATA plays a key role in the TSA PAG, which serves as an advisory council for TSA’s Mass Transit and Passenger Rail Security Division and is comprised of 22 chiefs of police who represent the largest and most security progressive transit agencies in the country.


Our goal at all times is to maximize transportation security to stay ahead of the evolving terrorist threat. TSA works collaboratively with industry partners to develop and implement programs that promote commerce while enhancing security and mitigating the risk to our nation’s travelers and transportation system. I want to thank the Subcommittee for the opportunity to discuss the important issues related to surface transportation security. I am pleased to answer any questions you might have.

Last Updated: 03/08/2022
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