Congressman Eric Swalwell is leading 96 House members in an effort to head off a proposed White House cut in funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP).
The annual funding is set aside for competing grant applications from regional transit agencies with programs to guard against terrorist actions.
The federal fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to the following Sept. 30. The current 2018-19 Fiscal Year program shows $100 million, but the Trump Administration wants to cut it to $36 million for the next budget year, Fiscal Year 2019-20. The Congressional members want the sum boosted to $105 million.
Further, Trump proposes a 25% non-federal cost share requirement, which Swalwell said would make it more expensive for agencies to accept TSGP awards.
Passengers made 10 billion trips on mass transit in 2017, according to the most recent available annual figures. The huge total, and the ease with which anyone can enter and exit transit systems in mostly urban areas, make the systems vulnerable to attacks.
FUNDS FOR EQUIPMENT, SPECIAL PATROL OFFICERS
BART has been a beneficiary of the grant program. Swalwell was instrumental in obtaining $6.8 million for the current Fiscal Year, said BART Deputy Chief Communications Officer Jim Allison.
The money pays for three categories of aid. Some $1.3 million funds an eight-member Critical Asset Patrol (CAP), which brings a daily visible presence to the most heavily used stretch of BART, from West Oakland Station through downtown San Francisco.
The team also patrols when special events are held, in coordination with other law enforcement.
Some $3.6 million of the current grant goes to upgrading BART cameras at Powell St. Civic Center and 16th St. stations in San Francisco. BART has more than 4000 cameras on trains and in stations, and wants to modernize the whole system.
The $2 million third portion of the grant was used to upgrade the interactive radio system, in conjunction with other police agencies.
Since the funding is annual, the money must be sought every year; there is no automatic renewal or multi-year grant.
In the letter to the Democratic chairwoman and Republican ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Swalwell and the other signers refer to a General Accounting Office report that mentions high profile terrorist attacks on public transit in Madrid in 2004, London in 2005, and Brussels in 2016. They note that tourist destinations and high readership areas made them “attractive targets for terrorists, because of the potential for mass casualties and economic damage.”
Among Bay Area Congressional members who signed the letter were Mark DeSaulnier of Contra Costa County; Ro Khanna of Fremont; Jerry McNerney of Stockton, formerly of Pleasanton; and John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, whose district previously included Livermore.
Also signing were Congresswomen Jackie Speier of San Mateo and Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto.