EDITOR'S DESK: Transportation security imbalance

Wyatt Kash

If something constructive came out of the London bombing tragedy earlier this month, it was the renewed debate over how the United States spends its homeland defense dollars.

As officials scrambled to tighten security on the nation's rail and bus systems, mass transit's limited security resources once again came into stark relief compared to the aviation sector.

The U.S. has invested roughly $9 for every daily airline passenger to make air travel safer. In contrast, spending for each daily rail and bus passenger amounts to about one cent. That's in spite of a recent Brookings Institution finding that 42 percent of terrorist attacks worldwide from 1999 to 2001 targeted rail and bus systems.

That disparity is just one sign that when it comes to risk management, the nation's investment priorities remain seriously misaligned.

Another disturbing sign is the token funding devoted to the nation's seaports. As GCN noted last week in the first of a two-part special report, 'Port Insecurity,' the government has awarded just $560 million in grants since 2002 for port security'a sixth of what was requested to meet basic mandates.

Consider the challenge the Coast Guard now faces. Only slightly larger in size than the New York City Police Department, with ships as worn out as many New York subway cars, the USCG must protect 95,000 miles of shoreline and more than 3 million square miles of water, and assess security plans for more than 9,000 vessels and 3,000 facilities.

Given the importance of seaports to America's economic stability, it remains striking that roughly 90 percent of the Transportation Security Administration's $5.3 billion annual investment still goes to aviation.

Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff set the right tone and agenda in announcing his reorganization plans for the department July 13. Dedicating resources and manpower where the risks are greatest is the right approach.

But Congress needs to do a much more responsible job than we've seen to date in following the same principles.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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