Beleaguered TSA May Wind Up Loser In Budget Battles

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. Meanwhile, 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 where terrorists boarded aircraft. The most famous case was the alleged Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

TSA has a layered approach to security “and every layer is farcical,” he said 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 in May 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.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Government Reform and Oversight Committee after conducting a joint investigation accused TSA of “wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by inefficiently deploying screening equipment and technology to commercial airports.”

Investigators found approximately 5,700 pieces of security equipment held at TSA’s Dallas, Transportation Logistics Center.  They estimated that the non-utilized equipment had a purchase value of $184 million, in addition to the $3.5 million annual cost to lease and manage the warehouse, according to a Mica statement.

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 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 can’t be too large, said Justin Taft, president and CEO of the Solter Group, which produces an annual report of the DHS budget.

TSA is out of favor, he said. But it still has daily operations to perform, so Congress could only cut so much, he said at the Counter Terrorism Expo.

“It is not well thought out,” Taft said of the proposed cut.

Topics: Homeland Security

Comments (0)

Retype the CAPTCHA code from the image
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Please enter the text displayed in the image.