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  4. Written testimony of TSA for a House Homeland Security Subcommittees on Transportation Security, and on Counterterrorism and Intelligence hearing titled “Safeguarding Our Nation's Surface Transportation Systems Against Evolving Terrorist Threats”

Written testimony of TSA Office of Security Policy and Industry Engagement Assistant Administrator Eddie Mayenschein for a House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Transportation Security, and Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence hearing titled “Safeguarding Our Nation's Surface Transportation Systems Against Evolving Terrorist Threats”

Release Date: September 17, 2015

311 Cannon House Office Building

Good morning Chairman Katko, Ranking Member Rice, and distinguished Members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) role in surface transportation security.

TSA is a high-performing counterterrorism agency, applying a layered, intelligence-driven and risk-based approach to protect the Nation’s transportation systems, including aviation, mass transit and passenger rail, freight rail, highway and motor carrier, and pipeline. Additionally, TSA leverages its core competencies in credentialing, explosives detection and intermodal security to support the U.S. Coast Guard as lead agency for maritime security. With its surface transportation programs, TSA strengthens and enhances the security of a complex transportation network through cooperative and collaborative efforts with significant sector operators to develop best practices and share information.

Surface Transportation Background

TSA could not accomplish this essential mission without intelligence analysis and information sharing, explosives detection canine teams, Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams, and our industry partners voluntarily adopting security improvements and sharing best practices with each other and with TSA. This collaborative “whole community” approach helps to ensure that both TSA and industry resources are applied efficiently and have the highest efficacy in reducing risk to the Nation’s transportation systems.

Protecting the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce is crucial to every American’s daily life. There are over 12,000 individual companies or agencies that operate within the five modes of the surface transportation landscape. More than 500 individual freight railroads operate on nearly 140,000 miles of track carrying essential goods. Eight million large capacity commercial trucks, and almost 4,000 commercial bus companies travel on the four million miles of roadway in the United States and more than 600,000 highway bridges and through 350 tunnels greater than 100 meters in length. In the mass transit and passenger rail mode there are approximately 7,300 organizations representing a wide range of systems from very small bus-only systems in rural areas to very large multi-modal systems in urban areas. Surface transportation operators carry approximately 750 million intercity bus passengers and 10 billion passenger trips on mass transit each year. The pipeline industry consists of more than 2.5 million miles of pipelines, owned and operated by approximately 3,000 private companies, which transport natural gas, refined petroleum products and other commercial products throughout the United States.

TSA oversees the development and implementation of risk-based security initiatives for these different modes of surface transportation in coordination with our security partners. As part of its security and counterterrorism mission, TSA works with private and municipal operator stakeholders to formulate policies and practices that improve security operations in their day-to-day environment. The Surface Division conducts analysis of transportation security and threat issues from both a long-term strategic perspective and near real-time analysis through data collected from TSA inspections and assessments. These analyses facilitate the assessment of risk in each surface mode and guide the development of risk reduction plans and initiatives. For instance, in 2007 our review of the industry scores in the training category of the BASE assessments indicated a potential vulnerability. TSA addressed this vulnerability by modifying the Transit Security Grants Program to prioritize front line employee training.

These activities, such as Security Awareness Messages (SAMs), provide our security partners with a menu of risk mitigation options they can implement based on the threat and their specific capabilities. Additionally, we develop, evaluate, approve, and implement surface transportation security initiatives to ensure that security guidance, policies, and regulations issued by TSA are risk-based, outcome-oriented, and effective in reducing risk.

Collaboration with Federal, State, Local, Tribal, and Private Entities

TSA maintains strong working relationships with modal administrations of the Department of Transportation (DOT). The Department of Transportation is the co-Sector Specific Agency with TSA for the transportation sector and routinely communicates, coordinates and collaborates on the harmonization of safety and security priorities. This coordination includes working directly with the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. As part of the DHS-led Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council framework, DOT and TSA co-chair Government Coordinating Councils for surface transportation modes, including freight rail, mass transit and passenger rail, highway and motor carrier, and pipelines. Coordinated activities include collaboration on new and existing regulations, conducting security assessments and analysis of data, developing and conducting training and exercises to address counterterrorism and all-hazards, and sharing unclassified and classified information as appropriate.

TSA engages with state, local, tribal, and private sector partners to identify ways to reduce vulnerabilities, assess risk, and improve security through collaborative and voluntary efforts while maintaining the flow of people and commerce. Planning initiatives and policies in coordination with our stakeholders is of utmost importance. TSA works with industry operators to ensure efforts and resources are appropriately directed towards reducing risk to the surface transportation network and infrastructure. Collaboration with those stakeholders is particularly important, and achieved in part through formal structures like the DHS-led Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council framework, Sector Coordinating Councils, and other industry-centric organizations such as the Mass Transit Policing and Security Peer Advisory Group.

Through these established networks and other informal channels, TSA collaborates with security and corporate leadership of the industry and municipal operator stakeholders in the pursuit of policy that reduces risk, including implementation of exercises, physical and cyber hardening measures, and operational deterrence activities. We also work very closely with our stakeholders in the development and dissemination of recommended practices, such as Security Action Items (SAIs) for mass transit, highway, and freight rail; motor-coach security best practices, and the Pipeline Security Smart Practice Observations. Through these networks, we have also established robust information sharing procedures and capabilities, such as the distribution of SAMs, the establishment of monthly stakeholder conference calls, and the dissemination of intelligence and threat information through modal Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs).

On the passenger rail side, TSA and Amtrak partner on programs such as Regional Alliance Including Local, State and Federal Efforts (RAILSAFE) to deter terrorist activity through unpredictable security activities. This program also incorporates other rail, transit, and local law enforcement agencies and involves counterterrorism activities such as increased station and right of way patrols, greater security presence on trains and at stations, explosive detection sweeps using canine teams, and random passenger bag inspections. Participating entities conduct these activities at local and regional high-risk transit locations to disrupt potential terrorist activities and reconnaissance as part of the layered approach to security. On average, more than 40 states and over 200 agencies, including TSA’s VIPR teams, participate RAILSAFE activities.

Through highway and motor carrier security programs, TSA has provided multiple voluntary initiatives to industry through forums and other communications, including security action items and training, which focus on over-the-road buses that service high threat urban areas, trucks carrying hazardous materials, and student transportation. Additionally, TSA coordinates and collaborates with the Department of Transportation to develop and implement a National Strategy for Bridge and Tunnel Security based on the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) vulnerability assessments. As a result, and working with USACE, TSA has assessed 100 percent of all high-risk bridges and tunnels, and has provided 81 percent of the remediation recommendations to asset owners. The final 19 percent of reports are in the process of being completed and will be shared within the next twelve months.

For the transport of hazardous cargo on the nation’s roadways, TSA conducts security threat assessments on professional drivers with Commercial Drivers Licenses who seek endorsement to haul hazardous materials. Only those applicants who have been successfully vetted and have received a TSA-approved Security Threat Assessment (STA) are allowed to transport such hazardous materials.

We work very closely with the pipeline industry on identifying and improving cybersecurity vulnerabilities, including coordinating a number of classified briefings to increase awareness of the threat. TSA’s involvement in the Pipeline Corporate Security Review (CSR) and Critical Facility Security Review (CFSR) program continues to help our pipeline stakeholders improve their organization-wide and critical infrastructure-specific security postures.

As an example of our close working relationships with the industry, TSA recently successfully launched the Loaned Executive Program aimed at providing senior level transportation security officials with first-hand experience of the Transportation Security Administration’s various counter-terrorism and risk reduction roles in enhancing industry security is providing real-world experience and detailed industry exposure to TSA’s surface security programs and policies. The program, which began as a pilot last September, has seen executives from Amtrak, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority participate in the program so far.

TSA provides the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with subject matter expertise to assist in the development of transportation security Notice of Funding Opportunities (grants) for surface transportation owners and operators. These FEMA grants support transportation risk mitigation by applying federal funding to critical security projects with the greatest security effects. Between fiscal years 2006 and 2014, over $2.2 billion in transportation security grant funding was awarded to freight railroad carriers and operators, over-the-road bus operators, the trucking community, and public mass transit owners and operators, including Amtrak, and their dedicated law enforcement providers. TSA continuously reviews the grant program framework and makes recommendations to FEMA, ensuring funding priorities are based on identified or potential threat and vulnerabilities identified through TSA assessment programs such as the Baseline Assessment for Security Enhancement (BASE) program, together with consideration of potential consequences. As a result, DHS is able to direct grant funds to activities that have the highest efficacy in reducing the greatest risk, such as critical infrastructure vulnerability remediation, equipment purchases, anti-terrorism teams, mobile screening teams, explosives detection canine teams, training, drills/exercises, and public awareness campaigns.

Training and Exercises

TSA works closely with our transportation stakeholders to provide resources for security training and exercises. Through a national review of assessments, TSA identified areas where we could assist transportation entities in providing better security training to their frontline employees. As such, TSA prioritized the development and distribution of security training resources for surface transportation frontline employees through channels such as TSA-produced training modules and making recommendations to adjust grant program priorities. TSA’s First Observer™ program trains highway professionals and other security entities, such as those responsible for providing parking and facility security at major sporting arenas and venues, to observe, assess, and report potential security and terrorism incidents. Since FY 2006, over $141 million in grant funding has been awarded to mass transit, freight rail, and over-the-road bus operators for security training, including over $129 million through the Transit Security Grant Program for mass transit agencies and Amtrak; over $6.9 million through the Freight Rail Security Grant Program for freight rail carriers; and $5.4 million through the Intercity Bus Security Grant Program for over-the-road bus operators. Additionally, we have developed and distributed an array of mode-specific training products for frontline employees. With this targeted effort on security training, TSA has seen assessment results related to security training improve across all modes of surface transportation. As an example, since 2007, the percentage of grant-eligible mass transit agencies that have a sound security training program based on their BASE scores has increased from 19% to 66%. Also, as a sub-set, the percentage of agencies in the higher-risk regions with sound security training programs has increased from 27% to 78%.

With regard to exercises, TSA collaborates with industry through our Intermodal Security Training and Exercise Program (I-STEP) across all modes of surface transportation. TSA facilitates I-STEP exercises to help surface transportation entities test and evaluate their security plans, including prevention and preparedness capabilities, and their ability to respond to threats and cooperate with first responders from other entities. Entities that receive an I-STEP exercise are selected through an extensive review process based on risk, which looks at elements such as assessment results, emerging threats as identified through intelligence resources. As new threats emerge, I-STEP scenarios are updated to ensure our industry partners are prepared to exercise the most appropriate countermeasures.

Assessments and Inspections

TSA also plays a role in surface transportation security through voluntary assessments and regulatory compliance inspections. The Surface Division works closely with TSA’s Office of Security Operations (OSO), which conducts both voluntary assessments and required regulatory compliance inspections.

TSA conducts approximately 10,000 regulatory inspections of freight railroads each year to ensure compliance with regulations requiring the secure exchange of custody of rail cars carrying Rail Security Sensitive Materials, as well as reporting significant security concerns and providing location and shipping information of certain rail shipments to TSA.

OSO’s Surface Transportation Security Inspectors conduct a thorough security program assessment of mass transit agencies to include Amtrak, and over-the-road bus operators through the BASE program. BASE assessments are conducted with emphasis on the 100 largest mass transit and passenger railroad systems measured by passenger volume, which account for over 95 percent of all users of public transportation. Results of these assessments feed into resource allocation decisions, including I-STEP exercises and grant funding, to ensure that the higher-risk entities with the greatest need receive priority consideration for available resources. For instance, in 2007 our review of the industry scores in the training category of the BASE assessments indicated a potential vulnerability. TSA addressed this vulnerability by modifying the Transit Security Grants Program to prioritize front line employee training.

Assessments and inspections in surface transportation are not limited to rail and highway operations. In pipeline mode, for example, the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (Pub. L. No. 110-53) required TSA to develop and implement a plan for inspecting the critical facilities of the top 100 pipeline systems in the nation. These required inspections were conducted between 2008 and 2011 through the Critical Facility Inspection program, with regular recurring reviews now being conducted through TSA’s Critical Facility Security Review program.


TSA works collaboratively with surface transportation industry partners to develop and implement programs while enhancing security and mitigating the risk to our Nation’s surface transportation systems while promoting commerce. I want to thank the Committee for its continued assistance to TSA and for the opportunity to discuss our work in partnering with the surface transportation industry to provide better security to the American people. Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

Last Updated: 10/06/2022
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