Report: Air security still trumps mass transit protections

The Homeland Security Department continues to devote a disproportionate level of resources to air security, leaving domestic rail and mass transit vulnerable, according to a report issued Tuesday by a House panel.

The report, prepared by the House Homeland Security Committee, found that for every air travel passenger, the Transportation Security Administration spends $9 for security, compared with one cent per rail passenger. Next week, the committee will introduce legislation based on the report's findings.

"Here we are almost a year after terrorists attacked London's transit system and, despite the many promises from the Department of Homeland Security, Americans are still not secure in their morning commute," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., ranking member of the committee. "How much longer will Secretary Michael Chertoff ignore the casualties of Madrid, London and other transit bombings before he understands the seriousness of the threat?"

The report also criticized DHS and TSA for failure to cooperate thoroughly enough on rail and mass transit protections with state and local governments. It recommended eight improvements, including mandatory training for rank and file employees, further development of regulations, completion of a national security plan and establishment of a better definition of what is expected of local and state authorities. It also called for more funding.

At a hearing last week on the administration's terrorist watch lists, Bill Gaches, TSA's assistant administrator for intelligence, told a Homeland Security subcommittee that rail security is a "concern" for officials. When pressed further, Gaches deflected lawmakers' questions, saying he would need to answer them in a private session because of classified data involved.

Meanwhile, one TSA air security initiative reported a setback Tuesday. The agency announced a delay in implementation of the Registered Traveler program to expedite screening for frequent fliers.

"We anticipate implementation later this year," said TSA spokeswoman Amy Kudwa. She said 10 to 20 pilot programs are going to be tested at airports around the country; sites are still being selected.

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