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Congress focuses on transit security

WASHINGTON – As Congress considers spending more on rail security, records show that the Homeland Security Department has spent less than 7 percent of the $10 million it received this year to inspect and patrol rail lines.

Senators began debate on the Homeland Security Department’s overall budget Monday, a month after a committee slashed $50 million for railway security. Lawmakers are expected to restore that money because of the London transit bombings, and Democrats are looking to add $350 million more.

Democrats also say that the Bush administration hasn’t moved quickly enough to spend the money it already has. Congress approved $150 million in local grants for upgrading transit security beginning last October, but the money didn’t begin flowing until April.

Lawmakers also gave the Transportation Security Administration $10 million to make sure rail systems are taking enough precautions to prevent terrorist attacks. But spending reports show that as of May 31 – two-thirds of the way into the federal budget year – the TSA had made plans to spend only $711,000.

And it had yet to spend any of the $2 million for canine teams to patrol rail and subway stations in search of explosives.

“How hard is it to spend money that’s already been allocated, especially since these security measures are so badly needed to protect America’s commuters?” asked Mississippi Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., accused the TSA of “slow-walking the critical security projects and initiatives that will help to make our commuters and our country safer.”

TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield said the agency has brought 56 rail inspectors on board since May 31 and will have 100 deployed in 18 cities by the end of August.

Many of the inspectors are already in the field, Hatfield said. Some have gone through a specialized five-week training course, and others are awaiting the training.

Hatfield said the agency also expects to spend all $2 million for 30 canine teams by Sept. 30. Ten mass transit systems have been selected for canine teams, which include a dog and a local law enforcement officer.


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