- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2006

Federal funds to shore up security for public transportation still have not been doled out nine months after Congress signed off on the money in October.

The Department of Homeland Security announced this month that $136 million will be available this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, for security on public transportation systems such as Metro.

It will take several more months before the funds can be used by transit systems across the country, while Congress is already debating how much money to give transit systems next year.

The process “took longer than we would have liked,” said Robert Jamison, deputy secretary of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is under the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Jamison said the agency in the future hopes to make the grants earlier in the year.

The Department of Homeland Security spent the time “prioritizing” which cities needed grant money, Mr. Jamison said.

Rail transit systems in the highest-risk areas, including New York City and Washington, will compete against other systems in their regions for portions of a $103 million fund. Washington-area transit agencies will divide $13 million.

The department will award the funds based on city applications explaining how they would use the money.

“The real difference is it’s more competitive this year,” said Dale Zehner, chief executive officer of Virginia Railway Express. “[Department of Homeland Security] made it very clear to us that only the best projects will be funded.”

Amtrak will receive $7.2 million as part of the overall infrastructure grant program.

Industry officials are concerned that transit security is still taking a back seat to aviation security, which will receive $4.5 billion this year alone.

“Certainly we have seen a small level of funding from DHS to some regions, to some areas,” said Greg Hull, director of Operations, Safety, and Security Programs at the American Public Transportation Association. “That level is a far cry from the needs that actually exist.”

The American Public Transportation Association says public transportation needs $6 billion for immediate security needs.

Congress has given less than $400 million specifically to public transportation security since the September 11 terrorist attacks almost five years ago. In comparison, more than $20 billion has been spent on aviation security.

One cent has been spent on security for every rail and mass transit passenger, while $9 has been spent on security for every airline passenger, according to a congressional report.

A December 2002 report from the Government Accountability Office says “insufficient funding is the most significant challenge in making … transit systems as safe and secure as possible.”

TSA says $18 billion has been given out over the past five years to state and local officials for security needs, not specifically for public transit security.

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