During a cruise to see the Statue of Liberty on a trip to “The City That Never Sleeps,” you might be surprised to learn that over three million cargo containers traverse those same waters to the Port of New York and New Jersey every year. Ports are part of our nation’s surface infrastructure, which also includes railways, pipelines, and tunnels. The Senate Commerce, Scienceand Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security held a hearing to discuss the security of our nation’s critical transportation infrastructure. Subcommittee Chairwoman Deb Fischer (R-NE) stated that our nation’s surface transit systems that move people and products using roads, trains, or ships are at “serious risk of attack.” She cited the bipartisan Surface Transportation and Maritime Security Act (S.3379), which instructs the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to improve security for surface transportation systems, as a way to address vulnerabilities in the surface sector.
Mr. John Roth (Inspector General, U.S. Department of Homeland Security) offered his support for the bill, telling the subcommittee that he hoped it would help address problems that were exposed in his department’s review of TSA, including the finding that TSA’s Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program for port and maritime facilities lacked adequate oversight. Mr. Tony Straquadine (Manager of Commercial and Government Affairs, Alliance Pipeline; Representative, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America) also stated his support for the legislation but suggested that instead of one central advisory committee to oversee all security, subcommittees should be formed “focused on specific sectors, such as marine or pipelines,” which would empower greater sector-specific involvement in decision-making. Mr. Tom Belfiore (Chief Security Officer, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) commended the strong partnership that the Port Authority has with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the U.S. Coast Guard to secure the East Coast’s busiest ports but advocated for greater CBP presence to enhance security and possibly extend operational hours to accommodate the increased growth in commerce at the ports. Senators and witnesses at the hearing alike agreed on the need for improving programs for all surface transportation infrastructure to better protect those who use these systems for work, school, or play every day.