U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer lambasted the Transportation Security Administration for proposing local governments assume responsibility for overseeing bomb-sniffing dogs.
In a story published on Politico.com last week, TSA chief David Pekoske said the agency does not have enough funding to keep the program going, and he would like to turn the responsibility over to state and local governments.
Standing outside Penn Station Sunday, Schumer said the idea of eliminating the VIPR Canine Teams, or Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response, does not make sense.
“These dogs can smell explosives in a way that machines often can’t and they’re mobile,” Schumer said, adding that eliminating the dogs is a result of “cost-cutting mania required by the administration.”
Schumer said a total of $58 million of the current federal budget has been set aside for the TSA’s 31 dog teams across the country. The city has one team with roughly 30 TSA-funded dogs, which is more than any other locality, according to Schumer’s office.
The senate minority leader said these dogs are used at several important hubs, including Penn Station, ferry terminals, airports, and events such as parades and the New York City Marathon.
“We are a city of hustle and bustle,” he said, adding: “It would be a huge safety gap because the dogs are able to do things that nothing else — man, machine, or anything else — can do.”
A spokeswoman for the TSA said on Monday that while the agency’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 doesn’t include funding for the VIPR teams — a special type of training — it does not cut funding for other explosives detection dogs. She said the TSA will also support state and local authorities with training and funding for their own bomb-sniffing dogs.
In a statement Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the proposed cuts are “unacceptable.”
“Canine teams play a vital role in lifesaving security measures across our state, including in our airports and transit hubs like Penn Station and Grand Central,” he said. “New York will always be a unique target, both as the economic and cultural center of the nation and because we stand for the values of freedom and democracy. The safety of New Yorkers is our number one priority and the State, including the MTA and the Port Authority, will continue to support canine teams and fill in gaps in federal spending where necessary.”