Rep. says TSA can no longer hide from oversight on his watch

Source: Steve Watson

Congressman John Mica, a consistent criticof the TSA, who has pushed for airports toditch the agency and replace it with private security screeners, has set about his biggest step to date to end the Federal agency’s rule throughout the nation’s airports.

Mica, who now heads up a subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, intends to introduce legislation to return all security authority in airports to private companies. He also says he is determined to push for up to half a dozen hearings this year alone to get it done.

“I’m telling you, whether you are a Democrat, a Republican or if there are a few independents left, people have had it right up to their eyebrows with TSA,” Mica said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “It’s not a partisan issue.”

Mica, who wrote the legislation that established the TSA after 9/11, has routinely declared the agency to be a miserable failure in recent years. Up until this Congressional period, Mica has sat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (TIC), which unlike the Reform Committee does not have subpoena power.

Back in November, the TSA refused to attend a House Transportation hearing called by Mica, with agency head John Pistole personally refusing to appear and declaring that the Congressional Committee has “no jurisdiction over the TSA”.

Now Mica DOES have jurisdiction over the TSA, there can be no such backing away from oversight by the federal agency.

“I have clear jurisdiction, investigative jurisdiction with subpoena power,” Mica said. “I intend to use whatever it takes to get answers to try and change the agency.”

Mica described the move as having “strong momentum,”noting that the bill would aim to return airport screening duties to private screeners within two years.

The TSA “should not be conducting the screening,” he said. “They should be setting the standards, conducting the oversight. TSA should be a security and intelligence agency.”

Screeners employed by private companies are already used at 16 airports under the Screening Partnership Program (SPP). Mica has pressed TSA head Pistole to implement the mandate and acceptapplications from other airports. The Congressman has also personally written to 200 airports advising them of the opportunity to opt out of using TSA screeners.

“It’s critical that TSA get out of the business of running a huge bureaucracy and human resources operation and refocus its attention on security, analyzing intelligence, and setting the highest risk-based security standards. TSA needs to focus on going after terrorists — not little old ladies, veteransand children.” Mica has said.

However, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released in December, pointed to “insufficient evidence to draw any conclusions of improved performance under SPP (Screening Partnership Program) when compared to federal screening services.”

That conclusion led Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee onHomeland Security, to advise the TSA not to accept any more SPP applications from airports until the issue has been looked at in further depth. Thompson wrote “…some privatized airports do not perform passenger screening as well as their federalized counterparts.”

The move has already prompted airports to back away from ditching TSA screeners, including Sacramento International Airport, which did a complete 180 turn around on the issue in January, announcing that it will stick with using the federal agency for security at the airport.

The TSA has been keen to downplay the opportunity for airports to dispense with their screeners, fearing a mass exodus that could undermine the justification for the agency’s continued existence, especially given the fact that its reputation has been repeatedly savaged by a number of scandals.

A previous GAO report in November found that the TSA does not have an adequate system to measure passenger complaints, has failed to factor in many complaints in its evaluations, does not consistently inform travelers of how they can file complaints, and could be ignoring complaints altogether because the agents investigating the cases are in the same chain of command as those being investigated.

Scores of airports throughout the country have now applied to evict the TSA, forcing the agency to reconsider applications after it arbitrarily suspended the SPP program in 2010.

Congressman Mica has said he intends to call his first hearing in April to examine the TSA’s highly dubious claim that spending cuts are going to cause longer delays in airports, despite the fact that at the same time the agency has recently signed a $50 million contract to buy uniforms, and continues to invest in expensive body scanners that have been proven unreliable.

Mica says he intends to use further hearings, as well as his proposed legislation, to further marginalize the widely loathed federal agency from aviation security.