Heinrich, Klobuchar Lead Letter Warning Against DHS Cuts To Mass Transit Security

WASHINGTON, D.C. -  Today, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) led a group of Democratic Senators in sending a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warning against cuts to a critical mass transit security program that safeguards Americans while traveling, especially in non-secure "soft" target areas at airports like check-in and baggage claim areas, and other transportation facilities like train stations and bus depots. 

In the letter, the Senators raise serious concerns over DHS's Fiscal Year 2019 Budget proposal to eliminate Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams. VIPR teams serve as a critical element of the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) layered approach to securing our nation's transportation systems.

“Three months ago, we were reminded of the continued threats to our nation's transportation systems when a terrorist attempted to detonate a bomb in the New York City subway. Given the persistent threats our transportation systems face, this is not the time to eliminate a program that augments the capacity of State and local law enforcement officials to prevent and respond to acts of terrorism and that TSA continues to hold out as one of the critical layers of aviation security,” wrote the Senators

Following the 2016 terrorist attacks at airports and subways in Brussels and Turkey, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Aviation Security Act of 2016 which included a measure led by Senator Heinrich to increase the authorized number of VIPR teams from 30 to 60. The VIPR provisions in the Aviation Security Act of 2016 built upon the statutory foundation for VIPR teams established in the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 which originally authorized the program. 

The Senators asked Secretary Nielsen to clarify the decision to eliminate funding for VIPR and what capability DHS intends to deploy in place of VIPR to enhance State and local law enforcement efforts to secure surface and aviation transportation hubs. 

Along with Senators Heinrich and Klobuchar, the letter was also signed by, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen
Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security 
245 Murray Lane SW 
Washington, D.C. 20528 

Dear Secretary Nielsen: 

We write to express concern with the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Fiscal Year 2019 Budget proposal to eliminate Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams. As you are aware, VIPR teams serve as a critical element of the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) layered approach to securing our nation's transportation systems. Through coordination with State and local law enforcement, VIPR teams provide an agile visible deterrent and response capability at transportation hubs that face the greatest threat of attack.

Acknowledging the need for a greater agile visible deterrent and response capability following the 2016 terrorist attacks at airports and subways in Brussels and Turkey, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Aviation Security Act of 2016 which increased the authorized number of VIPR teams from 30 to 60. The VIPR provisions in the Aviation Security Act of 2016 built upon the statutory foundation for VIPR teams established in the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 which originally authorized the program. 

Three months ago, we were reminded of the continued threats to our nation's transportation systems when a terrorist attempted to detonate a bomb in the New York City subway. Given the persistent threats our transportation systems face, this is not the time to eliminate a program that augments the capacity of State and local law enforcement officials to prevent and respond to acts of terrorism and that TSA continues to hold out as one of the critical layers of aviation security. 

To better inform us about the decision to propose eliminating funding for VIPR and to understand the associated implications, we request that you provide responses to the following questions within 14 days.

1.) How many successful VIPR operations have been conducted since the program was originally authorized in the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007?

2.) How many of the VIPR operations were conducted at National Special Security Events?

3.) How many of the VIPR operations were conducted at the request of State or local law enforcement?

4.) What, if any, capability does DHS intend to deploy in place of VIPR to enhance State and local law enforcement efforts to secure surface and aviation transportation hubs?

5.) Does DHS intend to propose the elimination of any of the other existing 19 layers of aviation security? If yes, which layers does DHS intend to propose to be eliminated? If no, please describe the analysis DHS used to determine that VIPR was the only layer deemed appropriate to eliminate.

Thank you for your attention regarding this important matter.

Sincerely, 

cc: David P. Pekoske, Administrator, Transportation Security Administration