The various agencies involved in transportation security do not have enough resources and are struggling to sort out overlapping missions, experts told a Senate panel Tuesday.
Senators from both sides of the aisle Tuesday criticized the Bush administration for not adequately funding transportation security initiatives and for not having a coordinated strategy to protect the country's transportation infrastructure from attack.
With the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaching, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee peered into efforts by the administration to protect the nation's vast transportation network. Most members of the committee commended the Transportation Security Administration for its efforts to improve aviation security. But there was substantial concern that TSA and its partner agencies are not in sync when it comes to other modes of transportation.
One of the biggest problems, according to Peter Guerrero, director of physical infrastructure issues at the General Accounting Office, is that agencies are still struggling to sort out areas of overlapping jurisdiction. That is causing confusion for regulated industries and state and local governments.
"Transportation security is far too important to be placed in limbo due to needless agency turf battles," said Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz.
Jeffrey Shane, undersecretary for policy at the Transportation Department, said that federal agencies are improving their coordination. He noted that Transportation's Maritime Administration has worked closely with the Coast Guard and TSA in the Homeland Security Department to evaluate security at the nation's ports and to issue grants to those most vulnerable.
Additionally, the Transportation Department has designated its Office of Intelligence and Security to act as the primary liaison with the Homeland Security Department.
Still, lawmakers expressed concern that agencies are not better aligning their resources. Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., questioned why TSA, the Coast Guard and Customs are all establishing intelligence divisions, rather than coordinating their activities.
Some of the lack of coordination stems from the fact that the agencies have differing missions, said TSA Administrator James Loy. He added that the agencies are trying to figure out how best to coordinate and share intelligence.
Democrats on the committee also blasted the administration for what they called low funding levels for homeland security. Sen. John Breaux, D-La., questioned how the administration could request $87 billion to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, but zero out funding for port security grants.
"This will create a huge burden on local officials," he said. Breaux urged Loy, Coast Guard Commandant Thomas Collins and Robert Bonner, chief of Homeland Security's Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, to return to their bosses and to the Office of Management and Budget and press for more money.
Guerrero agreed that Congress and the administration must take a hard look at funding levels, saying that it is the "most pressing issue" in improving security. The total cost of improving transportation security-which includes aviation, maritime transportation, rail, pipelines, and highways-are unknown, according to Guerrero. Yet every time the administration raises the security threat level, the private sector and local governments are forced to divert resources from such things as maintenance and safety, Guerrero added.