May 6, 2003
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Holds Hearing on FY2004 Border and Transportation Security Budget Overview
Thank you. Appreciate it very much.
Mr. Secretary, recently the administration announced that it intends to cut 6,000 security screeners at airports around the country. I do understand that some airports may well have more screeners than they need, and so I'm not opposing the reductions in their entirety.
However, I'm concerned about a few airports in my state of Wisconsin that I believe will have a difficult time dealing with staff cuts. First, Dane County Airport is listed as going from 81 to 63 screeners. I've been told that this was based on some misunderstanding about the number of security lines at that airport in Madison. TSA thought that Madison had only one security line, when in fact, it has three.
I've also been informed that this confusion is in the process of being sorted out and that Madison should get an additional screener, which would bring it to a total of 82. Is my understanding correct? And can we expect a decision on this fairly soon?
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At another airport, at the Outagamie County Airport in Wisconsin, which is Appleton, serves the Appleton area, it is slated to go down to 29 screeners from its current level of 51. However, even with 51 screeners, Outagamie County Airport is paying 10 percent of its screeners employment cost now in overtime.
So the question is: why would screeners be reduced when TSA is currently paying overtime, on a regular basis, in this location?
I'd have to look at that to get back to you. The methodology for the changes that were made looked at passenger loads and the numbers of lanes, the use of part-time and seasonal employees. The split shifts were considered. But it doesn't answer the question that you're asking. And we'll be glad to get back with you as to how the overtime that they were having to commit justifies the reduction that you refer to.
Okay, well, I'd like to be able to stay in touch with your department on that one.
Mr. Secretary, in January of 2002, a meth trafficking organization operating in several large U.S. cities was said to be smuggling pseudoephedrine, a precursor to meth, into the United States from Canada. Meth is a major problem in my own state of Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest. But what's even worse, the proceeds of that trafficking ring have been traced to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups operating in Yemen and Lebanon.
In what ways has the Department of Homeland Security tightened its processes and procedures at the border to stop the smuggling of illegal drugs or their precursors into the United States, in light of the link between drug trafficking and terrorism?
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One last question, Mr. Secretary. We can all be thankful that SARS has not taken serious hold in our country. However, SARS has shown us that a deadly illness can be introduced and spread by visitors to our country or upon the return of an American citizen who has traveled abroad.
What is the Department of Homeland Security doing to ensure that visitors who come into the U.S. at border crossings or by airplane or by boat are not carrying SARS? What is the department doing to prepare for and safeguard against other, possibly more lethal, diseases?