Riding a Wave of Bad Publicity, TSA May Take Budget Hit

5/16/2012
By Stew Magnuson
As the Department of Homeland Security agency that comes into contact with the general public most often, the Transportation Security Administration has become one of the government's primary punching bags.
There are almost weekly instances of grannies or mothers of toddlers accusing its agents of not practicing common sense at airport checkpoints. Lawmakers, in response, are poised to cut some of the maligned agency's budget.
The Obama administration has requested $7.6 billion for TSA, $197 million less than the 2012 enacted levels.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., is one of Congress' most vocal TSA critics. As chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he has a lot to say about the agency. None of it good. Along with agents patting down the elderly, there are bigger concerns about high-profile cases of where terrorists boarded aircraft. The most famous case was the alleged Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
The TSA has a layered approach to security "and every layer is farcical," he said May 16 at an aviation security panel sponsored by the National Journal in Washington, D.C. "Every one of these layers we have fails or will fail," he said.
Mica is privy to classified data on the effectiveness of TSA officer training and screening technology. If members of the audience could see the same reports that he can, they would "fall off their chairs," he said. He described the entire system as a "sieve."
Mica held a hearing earlier in the month about the large amount of screening equipment TSA was storing in warehouses because there were not enough trained personnel to use them. The sense that TSA has acquired machines that it cannot use may lead to the budget cuts.
Sticking up for the agency on the panel was Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, who said the failings were not TSA's alone. The entire intelligence community has a stake in keeping terrorists off of airplanes, and in the case of the Christmas Day bomber, the entire enterprise failed to connect the dots. "We must get collectively better," she said.
Numerous Government Accountability Office reports have pointed out the agency's failings, but it is Congress' job to fix the problems GAO uncovers, she said.
"We have had moments of embarrassment," she said. But she pointed out that there hasn't been a successful attack in 10 years.
TSA must clear some 1.7 million passengers per day in some 440 U.S airports. As the economy recovers, the number of passengers will grow. If the TSA takes a budget cut, it won't be large, said Justin Taft, president and CEO of the Solter Group, which produces an annual report of the DHS budget.
The Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection and the Coast Guard are generally looked upon favorably by Congress and their budgets should remain at their current levels, he said. TSA is out of favor, he said. But it still has operations to perform, so Congress could only cut so much, he said later in the day at the Counter Terrorism Expo.
"It is not well thought out," Taft said.

Topics: Homeland Security, Air Transportation, DHS Leadership

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