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TSA looks beyond aviation security

When the Transportation Security Administration moves over to the Homeland Security Department March 1, it will need to demonstrate that it can effectively coordinate security for all modes of transportation, not just aviation.

Since its inception a little over a year ago, TSA has been almost entirely focused on air travel. To be sure, the agency was under tight congressional deadlines to hire tens of thousands of passenger and baggage screeners. Having met those deadlines, the agency must now turn its attention to other modes of transportation.

"The mission of TSA is not the aviation security administration, it is transportation," Michael Jackson, the Transportation Department's deputy secretary, said at a Feb. 26 press briefing. "We have to think about the importance of the entire transportation network. It will not look in the trucking industry, for example, the way it looks in aviation. We will not have a standing army" of TSA officials at the nation's trucking terminals.

To that end, the TSA is working on a national security plan that will address all modes of transportation, according to TSA Administrator James Loy. Part of that plan will call for partnerships with the private sector. TSA must reach out to various industry groups to develop new security protocols, Loy said at the same press conference.

The plan will also address which agencies have the lead for certain areas of security. Loy said he is not interested in getting into turf wars. For instance, in the case of port security, the Coast Guard, which is also merging into Homeland Security, may be best positioned to be the primary agency in this area, with TSA and other agencies providing support.

As TSA moves to Homeland Security, it's also important for the agency to stay connected with partners at the Transportation Department, said former Transportation Deputy Secretary Mortimer Downey. If the agency becomes too entrenched at Homeland Security, it could hinder TSA's ability to work closely with officials in nonaviation industries, he added.

TSA is drafting memorandums of understanding with various Transportation agencies to determine how they will coordinate work in the future. But Downey said the agencies must do more than sign a piece of paper. They have to build and maintain strong working relationships.

Loy, a long-time Transportation official, agreed.

"Safety and security have been either side of the same coin at Transportation," Loy said. "What Congress has done is sort of slice that coin longitudinally. We are going to leave the safety responsibility at Transportation and take the security to DHS. So there is naturally some angst associated from all the modes of Transportation whether the security things that have served them so well-and are going to DHS-will continue to serve them."

The agreements, he said, are a way to assure Transportation officials that the collaboration will continue. At the same time, they are a sign to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge that, as Loy said, "he has important customers at Transportation."