Two House panels say air security is outdated

On the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaida terrorist attacks on the United States, two Homeland Security subcommittees in the U.S. House of Representatives held hearings Tuesday to gauge the progress in keeping terrorists out of the United States. One of the panels criticized the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, for inconveniencing airline passengers with unpopular screening procedures that might not address current threats.

The Transportation Security Subcommittee issued a report that concludes the Transportation Security Administration has been too reactive, imposing screening procedures that respond to past terrorist plots and not doing enough to anticipate future threats.  Some of the procedures the agency has implemented since 2001, including pat-downs of passengers and the introduction of screening machines that produce detailed images of travelers’ bodies, have outraged some airline passengers and are seen as a nuisance by others.

Geoff Freeman, the chief operating officer of the U.S. Travel Association, a trade organization, testified at the hearing.  He said the Transportation Security Administration needs to focus on more risk management and be more sensitive so as not to drive away airline customers.

“A 2010 survey found that travelers would take two to three more flights per year, if the hassles in security screening were reduced,” Freeman said.

The subcommittee report says the Transportation Security Administration has not adequately explained why it is using invasive screening procedures and that it would help if Americans understood what threats are being addressed.  The report criticizes the fact that the agency’s workforce continues to grow as airline passenger traffic in the United States is declining.

At another Homeland Security subcommittee, Chairwoman Candace Miller said progress has been made in the process of issuing visas and security screening.  But she said there is more work to be done, referring to the foiled airliner bombing attack in Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009.

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