The horrific events of September 11, 2001, ushered in a number of changes in American life. One of those changes was how we went through security at the airports. Obviously, the nature of the terrorist attacks that day focused the nation on a need to provide more security at airports and at the borders. President Bush and Congress quickly acted to establish the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with the hopes of better defending America’s transportation systems – again, primarily airports.
Very Brief Historical Overview:
The TSA was created under the 2001 Aviation and Transportation Security Act and would be housed within the US Department of Transportation. The purpose of the TSA was to “increase security at airports and other transportation venues.” Note the emphasis on airports. In fact, when President Bush spoke at the signing of the 2001 Act, not once did he mention highways. In 2002, the Bush Administration and Congress created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which ultimately moved the TSA out of the DOT to the DHS. Again, the emphasis of the TSA was on air travel and the nation’s borders (not really on highways):
President Bush: “The new department will analyze threats, will guard our borders and airports, protect our critical infrastructure, and coordinate the response of our nation for future emergencies.”
Norman Mineta (then US Secretary of DOT): “Creating TSA was by far the toughest, most challenging, and most satisfying endeavor I’ve ever undertaken. Starting from a blank sheet of paper on Nov. 19, 2001, we created an agency of more than 60,000 employees that is truly fulfilling its goal of protecting Americans, as they travel across our country, and beyond. . . . Not only have we improved security for the traveling public, but [we] have also cut waiting times at checkpoints, fulfilling our promise of delivering world-class security and world-class customer service.”
In 2007 the TSA began its efforts to expand its reach and influence to the highways with the development of “Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Teams in Mass Transit and Passenger Rail” (VIPR). After training and build up of personnel and resources, the first VIPR teams really started operation just last year.
In October 2011, Tennessee became the first state to collaborate with the TSA’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program. This included checkpoints focusing on truckers, but if you watch the video in this story from News Channel 5 in Nashville, TN, you will see that TSA is doing largely what state troopers and safety inspectors traditionally do.
Even the TSA’s web site refers to trucking, but seems to echo the information of other federal agencies.
TSA has identified large trucks as potential terrorist weapons. As such, TSA’s FY 2013 budget request includes $100.2 million for a total of 37 VIPR teams, which is an increase over the FY 2012 budget (that budget included temporary funding for VIPR teams, while the FY 2013 makes this funding annualized). These teams, according to TSA Administrator John Pistole (in a statement before the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security on Appropriations) are used in “periodic random deployments…….and, serve as a visible deterrent in all transportation sectors.” This includes highways.
While there’s no question many of the protective policies put in place since 9/11 have helped prevent another terrorist attack, this is really a question of where the lines of authority end. We are all familiar with the criticisms directed toward the TSA – excessive, inappropriate and unnecessary pat downs, invasive screenings, and racial profiling. Some, including I, would even argue that the TSA has no role on the highways as those duties should fall to the states (think 10th Amendment).
I know of no one in trucking who is opposed to safety and security, but extending the reach of yet another federal agency into the business of trucking is excessive (especially when the TSA is doing nothing different than local agencies have always done). This mission creep by a federal agency can, and will, only lead to more regulation on an already highly regulated industry. Heck, maybe you’ll even have the opportunity to be patted down by someone in a royal blue shirt wearing latex gloves.