Following Push from Senator Baldwin and Senate Democrats, Full Senate Passes Vital Amendment to FAA Reauthorization Bill to Strengthen Security at U.S. Airports

Senator Baldwin: These common sense security measures will help keep Americans safe from tragedies like the Brussels terror attacks

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senate Democrats secured an amendment to the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) Reauthorization bill to strengthen U.S. airport security, especially in non-secure “soft” target areas at airports like check-in and baggage claim areas.

The amendment pushed and supported by Senator Baldwin, a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, was endorsed by the Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. It comes after the recent wave of terror attacks in Europe. The Senate Democratic measures in the amendment would update federal security programs to provide active shooter training for law enforcement and increase the presence of federal agents with bomb-sniffing canines at these non-secure areas.

“We need to adapt to the new security challenges and a threat that is changing,” said Senator Baldwin. “If there is a threat, whether it is against an airport, ‎a freight rail line in Wisconsin, or a sports stadium, we must do our job and provide the Department of Homeland Security the tools it needs.”

Specifically, the Senate Democratic amendment that the full Senate passed today in the FAA reauthorization will:

  1. Expand and Enhance Visible Deterrents (VIPR teams): The Senate Democratic measure doubles the number of Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams nationwide from 30 to as many as 60 and add their operations to non-sterile areas of an airport, such as outside of a check point, to enhance “soft target” security. These VIPR teams promote confidence in and protect the nation’s transportation systems through targeted deployment of TSA screening and law enforcement capabilities at transit hubs, including airports and subways, and National Special Security Events (NSSEs).  TSA works with our intelligence and law enforcement agencies to deploy these teams based on threat levels and other security priorities.  VIPR Teams consist of a variety of operational assets that include Law Enforcement officials, regulatory inspectors, explosives specialists, and in some cases, screening personnel. They are recognizable to the American public because the teams often include bomb-sniffing canines.  TSA VIPR deployments are coordinated with other federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and industry security partners throughout the United States.

  2. Provide New Funding for Law Enforcement Training Active Shooter Incidents: The Senate Democratic measure will create a new eligible use under SHSGP/UASI funding for training exercises to enhance preparedness for and response to active shooter incidents at public locations, including airports, mass transit systems and other “soft target” areas.  Currently, 25 percent of Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Grant Program funds are used for law enforcement terrorism prevention activities. However, there is no explicit authorization for those funds to be used for training exercises for active shooter incidents events at public locations.

  3. Strengthen Airport and Mass Transit Security in Non-Secure Areas: The Senate Democratic measure authorizes and makes explicit that State Homeland security funding grants (SHSGP / UASI) can be used for airport and surface transportation security in non-secure “soft” areas.

The Senate Democratic amendment was led by Senator Baldwin and U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Dick Durbin (D-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).