Mineta Decries Congress on Security
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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said Tuesday that lawmakers are undermining the department’s ability to meet security deadlines later this year.
An anti-terrorism bill agreed to last week by House and Senate negotiators allocates $1 billion less than the $4.4 billion the Transportation Security Administration requested and limits the number of TSA employees to 45,000 rather than the 65,000 needed, he said.
``Less money with no flexibility means fewer TSA employees, less equipment, longer lines, delay in reducing the hassle factor and/or diminished security at our nation’s airports,″ Mineta told the House Transportation aviation subcommittee.
The TSA was created by Congress last fall to improve security in the nation’s transportation system, particularly airports and airplanes. But lawmakers have criticized TSA’s efforts toward meeting a Nov. 19 deadline for replacing private airport screeners with a federal work force, and a Dec. 31 deadline for inspecting all checked bags for explosives.
Lawmakers cite recent TSA tests that found fake guns, bombs and other weapons got past security screeners almost one-fourth of the time at 32 major airports. And they question some of the security measures taken in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
``You have 535 members of Congress who are frequent flyers,″ Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation Committee’s aviation panel, said last week. ``People are not happy when there aren’t some commonsense approaches to security. Shaking down 80-year-old ladies, Medal of Honor winners and 5-year-old kids makes no sense.″
Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., criticized the TSA for waiting until June to award a contract to begin redesigning airports to accommodate explosive detection equipment.
``That should have been done in January,″ said Oberstar, the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee. ``Why didn’t they launch this initiative then? They’d be much further along.″
Accompanying Mineta at the subcommittee hearing were Deputy Transportation Secretary Michael Jackson and James Loy, who was tapped last week to replace John Magaw as head of the TSA.
Magaw, former head of the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, resigned under pressure amid criticism he was not responsive enough to lawmakers, airlines and airport officials.
Loy previously served as commandant of the Coast Guard. He was a frequent visitor to Capitol Hill to discuss budgets and policies and is well-regarded by lawmakers.
``I have a great deal of respect for Admiral Loy, having worked closely with him during his service as commandant of the United States Coast Guard,″ said Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee, who clashed with Magaw over agency funding. ``I look forward to continuing this relationship as we work together to make the country’s transportation system the safest in the world.″
Mica, another Magaw critic, said Loy will be better received on Capitol Hill.
``He’s highly respected,″ the Florida Republican said. ``He’s dealt with Congress. He’s also run a very large agency. Hopefully, he can pick up the pieces of the TSA monster.″
On the Net:
Transportation Security Administration: http://www.tsa.dot.gov
House Transportation Committee: http://www.house.gov/transportation