Transportation Security:

Federal Action Needed to Help Address Security Challenges

GAO-03-843: Published: Jun 30, 2003. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 2003.

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The economic well being of the U.S. is dependent on the expeditious flow of people and goods through the transportation system. The attacks on September 11, 2001, illustrate the threats and vulnerabilities of the transportation system. Prior to September 11, the Department of Transportation (DOT) had primary responsibility for the security of the transportation system. In the wake of September 11, Congress created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) within DOT and gave it primary responsibility for the security of all modes of transportation. TSA was recently transferred to the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS). GAO was asked to examine the challenges in securing the transportation system and the federal role and actions in transportation security.

Securing the nation's transportation system is fraught with challenges. The transportation system crisscrosses the nation and extends beyond our borders to move millions of passengers and tons of freight each day. The extensiveness of the system as well as the sheer volume of passengers and freight moved makes it both an attractive target and difficult to secure. Addressing the security concerns of the transportation system is further complicated by the number of transportation stakeholders that are involved in security decisions, including government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels, and thousands of private sector companies. Further exacerbating these challenges are the financial pressures confronting transportation stakeholders. For example, the sluggish economy has weakened the transportation industry's financial condition by decreasing ridership and revenues. The federal government has provided additional funding for transportation security since September 11, but demand has far outstripped the additional amounts made available. It will take a collective effort of all transportation stakeholders to meet existing and future transportation challenges. Since September 11, transportation stakeholders have acted to enhance security. At the federal level, TSA primarily focused on meeting aviation security deadlines during its first year of existence and DOT launched a variety of security initiatives to enhance the other modes of transportation. For example, the Federal Transit Administration provided grants for emergency drills and conducted security assessments at the largest transit agencies, among other things. TSA has recently focused more on the security of the maritime and land transportation modes and is planning to issue security standards for all modes of transportation starting this summer. DOT is also continuing their security efforts. However, the roles and responsibilities of TSA and DOT in securing the transportation system have not been clearly defined, which creates the potential for overlap, duplication, and confusion as both entities move forward with their security efforts.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, in September 2004, DHS and DOT signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to develop procedures by which the two departments could improve their cooperation and coordination for promoting the safe, secure, and efficient movement of people and goods throughout the transportation system. The MOU defines broad areas of responsibility for each department. The MOU between DHS and DOT represents an overall framework for cooperation that is to be supplemented by additional signed agreements, or annexes, between the departments. The annexes are to delineate the specific security-related roles, responsibilities, resources, and commitments for mass transit, rail, research and development, and other matters. The annex for mass transit security was signed in September 2005.

    Recommendation: To clarify and define the roles and responsibilities of TSA and DOT modal administrations in transportation security matters, the Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Homeland Security should use a mechanism, such as a memorandum of agreement to clearly delineate their roles and responsibilities. At a minimum, this mechanism should establish the responsibilities of each entity in setting, administering, and implementing security standards and regulations, determining funding priorities, and interfacing with the transportation industry as well as define each entity's role in the inevitable overlap of some safety and security activities. After the roles and responsibilities of each entity are clearly defined, this information should be communicated to all transportation stakeholders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, in September 2004, DHS and DOT signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to develop procedures by which the two departments could improve their cooperation and coordination for promoting the safe, secure, and efficient movement of people and goods throughout the transportation system. The MOU defines broad areas of responsibility for each department. The MOU between DHS and DOT represents an overall framework for cooperation that is to be supplemented by additional signed agreements, or annexes, between the departments. The annexes are to delineate the specific security-related roles, responsibilities, resources, and commitments for mass transit, rail, research and development, and other matters. The annex for mass transit security was signed in September 2005.

    Recommendation: To clarify and define the roles and responsibilities of TSA and DOT modal administrations in transportation security matters, the Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Homeland Security should use a mechanism, such as a memorandum of agreement to clearly delineate their roles and responsibilities. At a minimum, this mechanism should establish the responsibilities of each entity in setting, administering, and implementing security standards and regulations, determining funding priorities, and interfacing with the transportation industry as well as define each entity's role in the inevitable overlap of some safety and security activities. After the roles and responsibilities of each entity are clearly defined, this information should be communicated to all transportation stakeholders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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