Transportation News for August 14, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on August 14, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 8/14/2015


LAWMAKERS WORRY $120M IN TSA TECHNOLOGY MISSES BASIC THREATS: We’ve got our hands this morning on a fresh and detailed document showing just how much the TSA has spent on body scanners since first adding the machines to airport checkpoints back in 2008: Of the more than $160 million the agency has doled out to purchase and install roughly 1,000 units, about $120 million has been spent on the current stock of millimeter wave machines that have raised security concerns in recent months.

While the TSA has overcome some health and privacy complaints by doing away with $40 million worth of backscatter machines that sassy critics like to call “naked scanners,” legislators privy to classified reports on the TSA’s failures say the agency’s remaining lineup of body scanners has major problems of its own.
Lawmakers talk: Rep. Bennie Thompson said he is “troubled about their capability to detect and prevent dangerous materials from passing through security checkpoints.” Rep. Mike McCaul told us that “technology failure was a big part of the problem” identified in a still-classified inspector general report that showed TSA failed to detect 96 percent of threats during covert testing. And Sen. Ron Johnson said “these things weren’t even catching metal,” adding that he has such low confidence in the technology that he thinks TSA should make flyers walk through a metal detector after passing through the body imaging machines.

Only Pros get a peek this morning at the cost breakdown and details on how the TSA might be able to make the machines better:

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FTA DETAILS NEWFOUND POWER: The FTA is out with a rule today that outlines its new authority to oversee the safety of local transit systems, rather than just being able to make grants to them. Our Lauren Gardner explains ( that “the 2012 highway bill gave FTA new authorities to inspect and audit public transit systems nationwide, including the ability to implement enforcement actions — including withholding federal dollars — against systems that don’t comply with safety requirements. … The proposal also details how the FTA would conduct audits and inspections, as well as how the agency would notify agencies of violations and enforcement actions.” Check it out:

METRO BOARD BLAMES ‘CHAIN OF COMMAND’ BREAKDOWN FOR DERAILMENT: Metro’s board of directors is on the hunt for whoever knew about the track issue that caused last week’s derailment, saying in a statement last night that “this is a breakdown of the organization’s chain of command and our safety culture.” The board has directed the transit agency’s general manager to wrap up his investigation into the incident within 10 days and praised the GM for being forthcoming this week about the fact that Metro knew about the track deficiency since early July but didn’t repair the problem. “The Board is outraged and dismayed that anyone working at Metro would have critical safety information and not act on it immediately,” the Thursday statement said. “The Board looks forward to learning how the chain of command broke down and where the responsibility lies. This is an unforgivable breach of safety that needs to be dealt with firmly and swiftly.”

Marylanders rage: While the board’s harsh words didn’t specifically call for the firing of those responsible, lawmakers with districts near D.C. are looking for somebody to take the fall for the derailment. “The individuals responsible for this utterly irresponsible failure should be fired, period,” said Rep. John Delaney, who hails from a Maryland district that begins near North Bethesda and reaches to the borders of both Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Meanwhile, fellow Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen said Metro’s inaction on repairing the track “is gross negligence that points to a troubling incompetence in the Metro system’s safety practices.”

DRONE DATA SPURS CALLS FOR FAA ACTION: Folks looking for a crackdown on drone flying have expectedly jumped on the news this week that far more pilots have reported seeing drones in 2015 than in years past. Pointing to the FAA’s announcement that pilots have reported more than 650 drone sightings so far this year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said the new data “should sound the alarm” and motivate lawmakers to support enactment of her proposal to regulate the flight of consumer drones. “The FAA needs the ability to set clear rules for when and where consumers can fly drones, require manufacturers to install basic technological safeguards and ensure consumers receive safety information,” the senator said in a written statement Thursday. “For those reasons, Congress must pass the Consumer Drone Safety Act as soon as possible, before there’s a tragedy.” That bill:

The Academy of Model Aeronautics and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International also spoke out about the new data, saying it highlights the need for stricter enforcement of existing federal regulations and for the FAA to finalize its small UAS rules. “Stricter enforcement will not only punish irresponsible operators, it will also serve as a deterrent to others who may misuse the technology,” AUVSI said.

ANOTHER STEP TO SAVE THE TRANSPORTATION SECTOR FROM CYBERATTACKS: DHS is standing up a new cybersecurity panel to look into whether the nation’s transportation sector (and several other types of critical infrastructure) are prepared to counter cyberthreats. The subcommittee will be tasked with providing the department’s Homeland Security Advisory Council with recommendations for “building cross-sector capabilities to rapidly restore critical functions and services following a significant cyber event” and taking a “more unified approach to support state, local, tribal and territorial cybersecurity.” Pro’s Joseph Marks has the details:

HAPPY RETIREMENT, CHIEF HOLL: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Chief of Police Stephen Holl plans to retire next month after nearly a decade at the airport authority. “Whatever the circumstance, I have always come away impressed by everyone’s energy and dedication to our mission,” said Holl, who has served as chairman of the Police Chiefs Committee for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a director with the Airport Law Enforcement Agencies Network and a member of the TSA’s Aviation Security Advisory Committee.


— Uber says its Chinese arm could eventually go public in China. Bloomberg Business:

— Car hacking might be going really upscale by moving to BMWs and Benzes. Wired:

— Google skirted drone test rules by using a deal with NASA.

— Airline begins weighing passengers for ‘safety’. CNN:

— Prince George’s commits an additional $20 million to Purple Line. The Washington Post:

— Wall Street ex-trader swaps arbitrage for AirAsia’s ambitions. Bloomberg Business:

— California looks into whether Uber’s car leasing program violates state rules. LA Times:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 77 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 49 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 455 days.