January 18, 2007

Opening Statement of Chairman Chris Dodd - Hearing to Examine the State of Transit Security

The Committee will please come to order. Thank you for being here for the inaugural meeting of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs for the 110th Congress.  I’m pleased to address the Committee as chairman.  I must say that I was beginning to wonder if a day like this would ever arrive.  I am probably one of the longest-serving first-time chairmen in Senate history.  On the three major committees on which I sit, I have had the pleasure to serve behind Senators Kennedy and Biden and former Senator Sarbanes.  Little did I know when I joined the Senate twenty-six years ago that each of these men would have the constitution of a bull, and make me wait for over a quarter of a century to chair a major committee. I’d like to say just a few words of a general nature, then proceed to the business at hand. First, I want to acknowledge my friend, colleague and former Chairman, Senator Shelby.  A couple of days after the November elections, Sen. Shelby and I had breakfast.  At that point, we still did not know for certain which party would hold a majority in the Senate.  But we agreed that, whatever the outcome, we would work together to find common ground on the Committee to advance issues of mutual concern.  This was not a difficult agreement to reach.  Sen. Shelby’s leadership of this Committee has been marked, first, by a commitment to address the critical issues of the day, and second, to do so in a bipartisan manner to the maximum extent possible.  It is my intention and hope that those two characteristics will continue to be identified with the leadership of this Committee.  As I have said previously, it is my intention to focus this committee’s attention on two fundamental objectives: First, strengthening our nation’s ability to keep our people and businesses as secure as possible against the risk of attack from those who wish us ill; and Second, expanding prosperity for businesses and consumers throughout our nation.  I am deeply troubled by what has happened in our economy over the past several years. Men and women are working harder and paying more for the essentials of a financially stable and secure life. Many are actually falling behind. Due to no fault of their own, some have become trapped in a downward spiral of debt from which they have little chance of escape. Others have victims of unscrupulous lending practices that have stripped them of their equity and sometimes their entire homes. In addition, vast numbers of small and medium-sized businesses struggle to compete in a global marketplace where our national leadership is doing little if anything to ensure that the competitive playing field is as level as possible. Some of our fellow citizens are doing very well in this economy. But most are struggling mightily. It is my intention to make their cause the work of this Committee. On that, I am confident that we can find common ground -- as Senators, and as Americans. In addition, I would like to pay tribute to our former colleague, Paul Sarbanes.  Paul Sarbanes was an extraordinary public servant.  He certainly set a high standard for me and others by his thoughtfulness and dedication to the public interest.  Just as I am committed to carrying on the qualities of leadership shown by Senator Shelby, so I am committed to carrying forward many of the qualities of leadership that characterized the service of Paul Sarbanes. I also want to acknowledge one of our colleagues who is not with us today, Senator Johnson. I’m sure that I speak for everyone in wishing him continued progress in his recovery. I look forward to working with him throughout this Congress. Today, the Committee examines the state of transit security in the United States. We have chosen this topic as the subject of the Committee’s first hearing for one overriding reason: because the safety of more than fourteen million Americans and the prosperity of our nation is at stake. It is no secret that, world-wide, terrorists have favored public transit as a target. Transit has been the single most frequent target of terrorism. In the decade leading up to 2001, 42 percent of terrorist attacks worldwide targeted rail systems or buses, according to the Brookings Institution. In 2005, they attacked London’s rail and bus system, killing 52 riders and injuring almost 700, in what has been called London’s bloodiest peacetime attack. In 2004 they attack Madrid’s metro, killing 192 and leaving more than 1,500 people injured. Previous attacks in Moscow, Seoul and Tokyo, not to mention many bombings of Israeli buses, demonstrate that this is global threat. Anyone who believes that America’s transit systems are somehow immune from attack need only consider the experience of these other nations and ask: Why would we be immune? Transit is frequently targeted because it is tremendously important to a nation’s economy. Securing our transit systems – and our transportation networks generally -- is a difficult challenge. Every act to increase security potentially limits the mobility that our citizens cherish. Yet, the difficulty of the task must not thwart us in completing it. We must make certain that our nation’s leaders are doing everything possible to adequately address the threats posed by terrorism to our public transit systems. Senator Shelby has been a leader in this effort and I want to recognize and thank him for his excellent work in making sure that the Banking Committee has been at the forefront in attempts to enhance our nation’s transit security. This issue is a clear example of how we can work together to achieve the two fundamental objectives of this Committee about which I spoke a moment ago: security and prosperity. I was proud to work with Senator Shelby, former Senator Sarbanes, Senators Reed and Allard and many others, including Sen. Schumer, when we crafted transit security legislation which was passed by this Committee unanimously in each of the past two Congresses. We have been working on this issue in a bi-partisan manner for the last two Congresses and have made considerable progress. Twice we have passed our bill through the full Senate and once we received a majority of votes (53) on the Senate floor to fully fund this bill. It is my hope that we can continue to work together and finally enact this critical legislation. While this Committee has worked to meet its obligation to the millions of transit riders, the same can not be said about the Congress as a whole or the current Administration. The need for enhanced transit security is clear. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 the federal government has invested nearly $24 billion in aviation security – protecting the 1.8 million people who fly on an average day – while investing only $386 million in transit security to protect the 14 million people who ride transit on an average work day. Put another way, since 2001, our nation has spent over $7.50 per passenger on aviation security, but less than one penny per transit rider on transit security. I am not suggesting that we ought to be investing equally, but clearly, this is not the appropriate balance. The stakes for our nation are simply too high to ignore the urgent call by governors, mayors, fire and police chiefs and others for greater national leadership in this area. If we are truly serious about keeping Americans safe from the risks of terrorism and if we are committed to economic prosperity, then I believe it is imperative that we act to strengthen America’s transit networks. To help the Committee better understand the risks to those networks and how best to minimize them, we are joined this morning by a panel of uniquely qualified witnesses.