Federal Update
Subcommitte looks at surface transportation security

By Kimberely Lennard, staff writer

The House Subcommittee on Transportation Security met May 31 to determine how the Transportation Security Administration can better allocate its surface resources, specifically the Surface Transportation Security Inspection Program and its benefits.

One of those programs is First Observer, a national safety and security program that uses the skills, experiences and savvy of America’s transportation professionals to help protect the critical transportation function that moves the goods and services and people across America.

First Observer is operated by Team HMS under a cooperative agreement with the Department of Homeland Security. OOIDA works for Team HMS in the program’s mission. Doug Morris, director of safety and security operations for OOIDA, testified on behalf of First Observer.

Morris praised the First Observer program and the professionals involved who observe, assess and report risks and potential security breaches. He called the program “a force multiplier for Homeland Security.”

Morris gave success stories of the program, including a foiled hijacking of a motor coach between Arlington, VA, and Durham, NC; the disruption of a bomb plot in Texas against former President George W. Bush; and foiled plots against West Coast power plants.

“The First Observer program has far exceeded TSA’s expectations,” Morris said. He pointed out that First Observer originated as a program for trucking security, and TSA asked it to put together more modules.

First Observer did so with no additional funds. “We just did it because we thought it was the right thing to do and we did it,” Morris said.

He also indicated the program has been operating under a no-cost extension since Jan. 1 and if there was more money, “we could put everyone under one umbrella.”

Morris said allowing the First Observer program to falter would send a clear message to all surface transportation professionals that TSA is more concerned with aviation security and that surface transportation is unimportant if not irrelevant. LL