TWIC check at Port of Tacoma. Photo: Port of Tacoma

TWIC check at Port of Tacoma. Photo: Port of Tacoma

A bipartisan measure that aims to make the federal Transportation Worker Identification Credential program more effective by ensuring “a risk-based security model for surface transportation facilities” was reintroduced in the Senate on March 30.

The Surface Transportation and Maritime Security Act (S.763) was reintroduced jointly by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), chairman of the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce, and Transportation, and Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

According to the quartet of senators, the legislation is substantially similar to a bill introduced late in the last Congress. It would address deficiencies in the Transportation Security Administration’s efforts to protect rail, transit, highway, and maritime passenger and freight transportation.

Thune said in a statement that the bill would “address concerns, raised by independent government watchdog agencies, that TSA is not adequately positioned to identify security risks across different modes of transportation or effectively support federal, state, local and private providers of transportation security.”

He also noted that TSA has previously stated in testimony to Congress that it spends only 3% of its budget on surface transportation security.

Per Thune, highlights of the bill include provisions that would:

Enhance Risk-Based Security Planning

  • Require the TSA Administrator to conduct a risk analysis and implement a risk-based security model for surface transportation facilities
  • Mandate risk-based budgeting for surface transportation security focusing resources on current threats with annual reviews of program effectiveness

Increase Canine Explosive-Detection Teams 

  • Authorize as many as 70 additional canine teams to work in surface transportation security as soon as possible
  • Require a review of the number, location, and utilization of canine teams in surface transportation security to ensure effective use
  • Following this review and the implementation of recommendations, TSA may then raise the total number of canine teams to 200 or higher as identified in TSA’s risk-based analysis

Increase Transparency

  • Establish a Surface Transportation Advisory Committee to provide stakeholders and the public with the opportunity to coordinate with the agency and comment on policy and pending regulations
  • Require that TSA budget submissions clearly indicate which resources will be used for surface transportation security and which will be dedicated to aviation
  • Direct TSA to regularly update Congress on the status of long overdue surface transportation rulemakings

“To keep Americans safe, Congress must continually focus attention on areas of neglect and potential weakness to keep them from becoming targets for terrorism,” said Thune. “The Senate Commerce Committee will soon vote on these important reforms for the TSA.”

The American Trucking Associations applauded the reintroduction of the bill. “As it stands now, professional truck drivers are still subject to a number of duplicative background checks and other hurdles in order to move America’s most hazardous freight and access sensitive areas of the supply chain,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear.

“We appreciate the efforts of Senators Thune, Nelson, Fischer and Booker for recognizing that while some scrutiny is necessary, we should look to make the process simpler and less redundant for drivers and we thank them for including these necessary reforms to the TWIC program in this important legislation,” he continued. “This bill is a good first step toward improving the credentialing process and we look forward to working with the Committee as it moves forward.”

Pointing out that he had testified before the committee last year on the credentialing process, Spear said trucking “appreciates that the members of the Committee heard those concerns, took them seriously and have introduced legislation aimed at addressing them.”

ATA noted that the measure is also supported by other trucking lobbies, including the National Tank Truck Carriers and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

NTTC President Dan Furth said the group thanked the senatorsfor their efforts to reduce the burden of these overlapping background checks on our drivers while still working to keep our supply chain secure.”

 “No group is more concerned with transportation security than the truckers moving the cargo,” added OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer. “For too long, these hard working men and women have been frustrated with the bureaucracy and costs of duplicative and redundant background checks. They deserve a better system. While there is much more that needs to be accomplished, the Surface Transportation and Maritime Security Act is a significant step in the right direction.”

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