Senate amendments to increase rail security fail to pass

The Senate yesterday failed to pass amendments that would have added funding for mass transit security to reflect increased concern since the July 7 London subway bombings.

The Senate approved a budget of $31.9 billion for the Homeland Security Department for fiscal 2006, containing $100 million for rail and mass transit security?that is the same amount recommended by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The House version of the bill has $150 million for securing mass transit systems.

The two bills must be reconciled in conference, and the final version must be approved by each chamber before President Bush signs it to make it official.

One of the defeated amendments, which would have provided $1.16 billion for mass transit security, was sponsored by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). The senators voted 53-45 in favor of the measure, but that was not enough to overcome a point of order requiring a 60 percent majority.

"We have made great strides in improving our nation's aviation security, but Americans deserve to have the government's full attention devoted to the security of every mode of transportation," Shelby said in a news release following the vote.

Several Democrats have also objected to Secretary Michael Chertoff's remarks to the Associated Press yesterday defending the department's relative lack of attention to mass transit security.

"The truth of the matter is a fully loaded airplane with jet fuel, a commercial airliner, has the capacity to kill 3,000 people," Chertoff said in Thursday's interview. "A bomb in a subway car may kill 30 people. When you start to think about your priorities, you're going to think about making sure you don't have a catastrophic thing first."

Asked whether this meant communities should be ready to provide the bulk of the protection for local transit systems, Chertoff said, "Yep."

Several Democrats criticized those remarks.

"It is stunning that the leader of our nation's homeland security efforts can so casually dismiss the threat to our subways and trains," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. "How many attacks will it take before this administration acts proactively to protect America's 30 million daily commuters?"

"Secretary Chertoff should retract his remarks. I think everyone can agree that the federal government has a real responsibility to protect rail riders in this country from terrorism," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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