Trump Budget Would Halve Transportation Security Program

By Ted Mann and Ben Kesling Features Dow Jones Newswires

President Donald Trump's 2018 budget would cut transportation security grants that support patrols of so-called soft targets like New York City's Penn Station and Washington, D.C.'s Union Station.

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In the document released this week, the Trump administration proposed cutting by more than half a $100 million grant program that supports security operations at passenger transportation sites, $10 million of which funds security at Amtrak. The bulk of the grants in recent years have paid for security measures at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the New York City subway system. NJ Transit also receives funding from the program.

Government officials and safety regulators have warned that the existing funding was already too low to meet the threats against some of the nation's most crowded transportation networks.

"President Trump promised to make America safe, yet his budget treats security needs at transit hubs -- such as Penn Station, JFK, Grand Central Terminal--like an inconvenience," Sen. Chuck Schumer, (D., N.Y.), said in a statement.

Mr. Schumer, the senate minority leader, said transit hubs are "a prime target for would-be terrorists," and his New York colleague, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, said the state's residents "should not be gambling with their safety when they use public transportation."

Safeguarding soft targets like Penn Station and Washington's Union Station is "already incredibly difficult and has long been underfunded -- but these latest cuts are draconian," said Sarah Feinberg, who led the Federal Railroad Administration under President Barack Obama.

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A spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

In its budget, the Trump administration proposed a budget of $47 million for the Transportation Security Grant program, down from $100 million in current funding.

The Intercity Passenger Rail grant, which covers Amtrak expenses, is earmarked out of the Transportation Security Grant program. The Trump administration didn't propose setting aside any dedicated funding for Amtrak in his 2018 budget proposal.

The administration's budget is only a request and unlikely to become law in its present form. Lawmakers from both parties have criticized major elements of the proposal.

Funding of the security grant programs has fluctuated over the years and was on the decline during the last half of the Obama administration.

Total funding of the Transportation Security Grant program was set at or just below $100 million over the fiscal years from 2014 through 2017. Total funding for the grants reached as high as $381 million in 2008, but gradually declined.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said that its $10 million annual grant funds counterterrorism training, the railroad's canine unit, video surveillance, risk assessments, and other safety programs.

"The elimination of this grant will have a significant impact on critical funding for Amtrak's safety and security programs," spokeswoman Christina Leeds wrote in an email.

Write to Ted Mann at ted.mann@wsj.com and Ben Kesling at benjamin.kesling@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 25, 2017 18:15 ET (22:15 GMT)