WASHINGTON, D.C. — Members of a congressional security committee expressed concern to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about its lack of progress on a measure to improve safety for school bus passengers.
The measure, part of the HR 1 act signed by President Bush in August, directs the DHS secretary to submit a pupil transportation security report to Congress within a year of enactment.
Congressmen Bennie Thompson and Bob Etheridge, both of the House Committee on Homeland Security, sent a letter in January to Edmund “Kip” Hawley, the assistant secretary of homeland security for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), asking how and when the department plans to conduct the school transportation threat assessment.
Etheridge worked to include the measure in HR 1 based on a suggestion from Derek Graham, North Carolina’s state pupil transportation director.
The National School Transportation Association was also instrumental in the measure’s inclusion. The contractor group said in a recent newsletter that it had been pressing TSA to respond appropriately and had expressed its frustration to Etheridge. Graham had also contacted Etheridge, who responded quickly.
“I am very concerned that after six months, it appears that the Department of Homeland Security has not begun to take action on my measure to improve the safety of millions of children,” Etheridge said. “DHS must detail how it expects to conduct a thorough assessment of our nation’s school bus safety in the six months remaining until its report is due to Congress.”
In a telephone conference with members of the pupil transportation industry in December, TSA officials acknowledged the lack of progress on the threat assessment and said that Congress had yet to provide funding for it.
In Etheridge and Thompson’s letter to Hawley, they noted that TSA had requested $500,000 to conduct the assessment. The congressmen asked why the administration had not asked for more funding when, by some estimates, a complete risk analysis of the school bus industry could cost as much as $4 million.
In 2003, the Volpe Center conducted a vulnerability assessment of the motorcoach industry at the request of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Volpe, a federal organization that provides transportation and logistics expertise, identified risks and the availability and cost of countermeasures.
Pupil transportation officials have said that they expected the HR 1 measure to yield a study similar to the Volpe motorcoach assessment. TSA officials have said that the Volpe assessment could be used as a guide.
As directed by the HR 1 measure, the school bus assessment would cover security risks to both public and private school bus operations. It would assess steps already taken by the industry to address security risks and would determine whether further actions and investments were necessary.