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Public Statements

H.R. 2217, Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2014

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SWALWELL of California. Mr. Chairman, moments ago, the TSA Administrator announced that he will reverse his earlier decision to allow knives back onto airplanes. Knives will now continue to be a part of the prohibited items list on our aircraft, making our passengers and our crew more safe. This is positive news.

However, the administration's desire to zero out this FFDO program--allowing our trained pilots to be armed on the aircraft--puts us in a position that will put us more at risk, will put passengers and flight crew more at risk. The TSA not allowing knives on planes, that's just one step for passenger and crew safety when we need a comprehensive approach to keep our passengers and crew safe, which would include not allowing knives on planes, which would include risk-based screening, which would include, as my friends from the other side have talked about, increasing funding for intelligence operations to make sure we know who is getting on these airplanes. But it would also mean keeping the Federal Flight Deck Officer program fully funded.

This is a program I know about because of a personal friend in Livermore, California, who is a Southwest pilot. I have seen firsthand over the last 7 years how serious he has trained to be ready for this program. As my friend and colleague from the other side just mentioned, they fly down to Texas routinely to train down there, and they are very diligent. They do this many times on their own dime. And a lot of skill and effort is put into their training to make sure that if something dangerous were to happen on that aircraft, they would be prepared. It is a task they take seriously, and it's a task we want them to continue to be supported by in the Federal Government.

So, to have comprehensive airline passenger security, we want to restore the Federal dollars for this, put it back at $25 million. And I appreciate that this amendment was offered.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. SWALWELL of California. Mr. Chairman, if we learned anything about the Boston Marathon bombings, it is that real threats exist against our homeland from outside actors motivated by outside forces with great access now from readily accessible materials that they can get on the Internet, and they can become radicalized also on the Internet and can target us here at home with IED devices.

I rise in support of my amendment, Mr. Chairman, which would require that at least $97.5 million of the $1.5 billion provided to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for State and local government Homeland Security grants would be used for mass transit security programs.

These programs are listed on (1)(E) on page 38 of the bill. The main FEMA and Department of Homeland Security mass transit security effort is their Transit Security Grant Program.

I want to start by thanking Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Carter and Ranking Member Price for the increase in funding for the account that funds local grant programs for security and terrorism readiness.

I organized a letter, signed by 39 other Members of Congress, asking for funding that is sufficiently robust for TSGP, the Transit Security Grant Program, to be able to meet our needs for mass transit security. Chairman Carter and Ranking Member Price listened to our request, and more money will be available for this critical security program.

While the FEMA State and local grant account funds a variety of homeland security initiatives, my amendment addresses the critical, if often overlooked, element of mass transit security. Mass transit, which mostly includes bus and rail, is used by millions of Americans every year. In fact, according to the American Public Transportation Association, there are over 10.5 billion passenger trips in 2012 alone. That amounts to over 28 million trips per day.

We're fortunate in the East Bay of California, which I am privileged to represent, to have an excellent bus system and the world-famous Bay Area Rapid Transit system, also known as BART. There were over 400,000 BART passenger trips just this past April.

Unfortunately, some of what makes mass transit so great, that it is easily accessible and carries so many people quickly through critical urban centers, makes it vulnerable to terrorist attacks. In June 2009, the Government Accountability Office, GAO, summarized the issues facing mass transit, writing the following:

According to the Transportation Security Administration transit officials and transit experts, certain characteristics of mass transit systems, such as multiple access points and limited barriers to access, make them inherently vulnerable to terrorist attack and therefore difficult to secure. High ridership, expensive infrastructure, economic importance, and location in large metropolitan areas or tourist destinations also make them attractive targets for terrorists because of the potential for mass casualties and economic damage.

Just 2 months ago in April, a plot to target trains in Canada was thankfully disrupted before anybody was hurt. And, of course, everyone remembers the horrible London attacks from 2005, and the Madrid transit attacks in 2004.

No American, in any part of our country on any of our mass transit systems, should live in fear of a mass transit attack. And damaging mass transit in our key urban centers wouldn't only harm that particular area but could ripple through our Nation's economy. Transit security means economic security. Everyone has an interest in protecting our public transit systems, and that's where TSGP comes in.

Through TSGP, local mass transit systems receive grants to protect and minimize damage from terrorist events. Example of uses include surveillance training, public awareness campaigns, detection equipment, security cameras, and the hardening of infrastructure.

The continuing resolution for fiscal year 2013 provided a floor of $97.5 million for mass transit security, before sequestration, of which $10 million was reserved for Amtrak. My amendment would use that same number. And since the bill before us is based on sequestration levels already, that would amount to an increase in the floor for fiscal year 2014 over fiscal year 2013.

To provide such broad discretion for the Department of Homeland Security is important. However, I also understand the argument that the Homeland Security Secretary should be able to distribute money based on risk and potential harm. I know some Members may feel we shouldn't set minimum amounts to be spent out of this account.

To provide such discretion is important, but it ignores our constitutional responsibility to provide clear direction on how the money is spent. And, it risks certain priorities being ignored. Moreover, the Transit Security Grant Program is a competitive grant program, and so within that framework money would only be distributed based on risk and damage potential.

Last Congress, minimums were included for this account when a compromise was developed with the Senate, including for transit security. I hope the same thing will happen again. My amendment gives this House an opportunity to state now on the record that we value mass transit security.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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