The Transportation Security Agency, created in 2001 following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was intended to be a lean security agency with the flexibility to quickly respond and adapt to potential threats of terrorism.
Instead TSA has mushroomed into a massive, inflexible, backward-looking bureaucracy of more than 65,000, according to Thomas E. Petri, a congressman whose subcommittee is studying the agency. Over its first 10 years of existence, the agency and its numerous failures have cost taxpayers $57 billion, his subcommittee has calculated.
The Aviation Subcommittee conducted a hearing Thursday to examine the impact that Transportation Security Administration regulations and policies have on the aviation passenger experience and the free flow of aviation commerce. The subcommittee is within the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
While government, industry, labor and consumer advocacy witnesses provided testimony on how improvements to Transportation Security Administration procedures and programs could benefit users of the aviation system, the agency itself declined to participate, the subcommittee reported.
John L. Mica, a Florida Republican and chairman of the house committee, Petri, a Wisconsin Republican, questioned the security agency’s unwillingness to cooperate with their congressional panels.
“Sadly the TSA administrator is stonewalling this committee and refuses to work with us, and that’s part of the problem with this agency,” Mica said. “He and other agency officials are protecting one of the biggest government bureaucracies, which has grown now to more than 66,000 employees.”
“Unfortunately, as this mushrooming agency has spun out of control, passengers have not been well served,” Mica said.
“We’ve had numerous security meltdowns, including in Honolulu, Los Angeles, Newark, Fort Myers, Charlotte and elsewhere. When I helped establish this agency, Congress intended it to operate a risk-based system, but the TSA is best known for shaking down little old ladies and others who pose no security risk.
“Now that airports can opt out of the all-federal screening system with more certainty and have private screeners operating under federal supervision and oversight, we have a mechanism in place that can allow TSA to become the leaner, risk-based, effective agency it was intended to be,” Mica said.
“If we want more government stove piping, the TSA’s attitude and actions regarding this hearing achieve that end,” Petri said. “But if we want better government and more coordination between government activities, Congress must be able to fulfill its oversight responsibilities. In the case of this subcommittee, the TSA’s operations and policies clearly impact civil aviation, including commerce, safety, airport operations, airlines, and passengers.
“Unfortunately, if they continue down this path of non-transparency and arrogance, the TSA will end up eliminating the very thing it is supposed to be protecting,” Petri added. “Their absence today demonstrates why the public is so frustrated with the TSA. These officials are public servants, and their attitude should reflect this fact.”
“The TSA and its 45,000 screeners are responsible for a complex and difficult job. The TSA would be well served in pursuing better partnerships with aviation stakeholders, and should also seek more input from a variety of groups on how the security process can be improved,” Petri concluded.
Witnesses at the hearing included Charles K. Edwards, Department of Homeland Security acting inspector general, and representatives of the International Air Transport Association, the Association of Flight Attendants and the Consumer Travel Alliance