Heinrich Leads Effort to Attach Airport Security Measure to FAA Reauthorization

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) is leading a group of senators in urging House and Senate members negotiating the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill to include a provision to enhance U.S. airport and mass transit security. The senators sent a letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who are currently negotiating the FAA Reauthorization bill. Senator Heinrich introduced the provision earlier this year and it passed the Senate with overwhelming support.

The provision would strengthen security, especially in non-secure "soft" target areas at airports, like check-in and baggage claim areas. The proposal would also update federal security programs to provide active shooter training for law enforcement and increase the presence of federal security teams with bomb-sniffing canines at these non-secure areas.

"As you work to finalize legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), we urge you to include the provision, which passed the Senate in April with a 91 to 5 vote, to safeguard and strengthen U.S. Airports and mass transit security, especially in non-secure 'soft' target areas at airports like check-in and baggage claim areas," the senators wrote. "The provision would increase the number of Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams nationwide from the current 30 to as many as 60 and add their operations to non-sterile areas of an airport, such as outside of a checkpoint, to enhance 'soft target' security. As you know, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) works with our intelligence and law enforcement agencies to deploy VIPR teams based on threat levels and other security priorities and consist of law enforcement officials, regulatory inspectors, explosives specialists, and in some cases, screening personnel ... We look forward to working with you to ensure these additional safeguards will better equip us to respond to terror threats and preserve our freedom to go about our daily lives."

With agency funding set to expire on July 15, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), the lead Senate negotiator, indicated that the Senate could consider the final FAA reauthorization bill next week. 

The letter was signed by U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). 

A copy of the letter is below and available here

The Honorable John Thune            
Chairman
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Bill Nelson
Ranking Member
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Bill Shuster
Chairman
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Peter DeFazio
Ranking Member
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Thune, Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member Nelson and Ranking Member DeFazio:

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Istanbul, it's critical to ensure that we make every possible effort to secure our airports, train stations, and bus depots. As you work to finalize legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), we urge you to include the provision, which passed the Senate in April with a 91 to 5 vote, to safeguard and strengthen U.S. Airports and mass transit security, especially in non-secure "soft" target areas at airports like check-in and baggage claim areas.

The provision would increase the number of Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams nationwide from the current 30 to as many as 60 and add their operations to non-sterile areas of an airport, such as outside of a checkpoint, to enhance "soft target" security. As you know, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) works with our intelligence and law enforcement agencies to deploy VIPR teams based on threat levels and other security priorities and consist of law enforcement officials, regulatory inspectors, explosives specialists, and in some cases, screening personnel.

The proposal also creates an eligible use under homeland security funding (SHSGP/UASI) programs for training exercises to enhance preparedness for and response to active shooter incidents at public locations, including airports, mass transit systems, and other "soft target" areas. Currently, there is no explicit authorization for homeland security funds to be used for training exercises for active shooter incidents or mass casualty events at public locations. Further, this provision would authorize and make clear that SHSGP/UASI can be used for airport and surface transportation security in non-secure areas.

We look forward to working with you to ensure these additional safeguards will better equip us to respond to terror threats and preserve our freedom to go about our daily lives.

Sincerely,