Federal News Service April 22, 2004 Thursday
Copyright 2004 The Federal News Service, Inc.
Federal News Service
April 22, 2004 Thursday
HEADLINE: PANEL I OF A HEARING OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON AVIATION OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
SUBJECT: AIRPORT SCREENER PRIVATIZATION PROGRAM
CHAIRMAN: REPRESENTATIVE MICA (R-FL)
WITNESSES: ADMIRAL DAVID M. STONE, ACTING ADMINISTRATOR, TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION; CLARK KENT ERVIN, INSPECTOR GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
REP. MICA: Good morning. I'd like to call this hearing of the Aviation Subcommittee to order. Today our topic is a review of the airport private security screening pilot program. The order of business will be as follows: We'll have opening statements from members, and we have three panels of witnesses-a rather long hearing today, so hopefully we can keep the program moving. We'll start with opening statements. And I do have an opening statement, and then I'll yield to other members for recognition.
Ladies and gentlemen of the subcommittee, today as you know we are going to take our first review of the private screening pilot program, which has come to be known as the PP5 program. This two- year pilot program was mandated in the Aviation Transportation Security Act, and I was the author-the primary author-of the provision that put this program into place. I'm pleased that today we can examine its progress.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
REP. SHELLEY BERKLEY (D-NV): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First, I want to thank Admiral Stone for working with the Nevada delegation, the airport director and the FSD at McCarran Airport to resolve problems the airport experienced at the beginning of the year.
As you are well aware, in January, departing passengers - and our chairman mentioned this - stood in line for up to four hours after attending one of the largest conventions in Las Vegas. This obviously is unacceptable for a community that depends on its airport for its very livelihood. And as I have said on many occasions, almost 50 percent of the people that come to Las Vegas to enjoy our wholesome family entertainment come through McCarran Airport. That's 36 million visitors.
People who stand in line for four hours are going to think twice before coming back to our community, and that would have an economic impact that I'd hate to think about.
You've heard what we said, and I appreciate that. The TSA has worked with the FSD at McCarran to give him more flexibility. And that was the key word. I think every one of the members on this committee have mentioned the need for more flexibility to move passengers through the security checkpoint securely and more efficiently. And as a result, we are a success story. The length of time travelers must stand in line has been dramatically reduced. We just had our National Broadcasting Association big convention in Vegas; not as big as CES, but I can say that we did not receive many complaints.
The airport is continuing to work with the TSA to make sure that the screening process continues to improve. By the middle of June, a few months from now, the airport is adding six additional security lanes. But I must reiterate to the admiral, just as every one of my colleagues has stated, we need the staffing of these additional lines. If we don't have enough staffing, it doesn't matter how many security lines we have; we can't get people through. And I think all of us share that concern, particularly at McCarran's D gates, although I can tell you, C gates are no bargain either.
Finally, while the TSA has experienced difficulties at McCarran and other airports, I am absolutely not convinced - as a matter of fact, quite to the contrary - that privatizing our aviation security system is the answer. And I can't help but agree with my colleague, Mr. Menendez, there almost seems to be a conspiracy to ensure that this doesn't work. Congress has not provided TSA adequate resources to hire the number of screeners and equipment needed to fully carry out the mandates we put in place, and they were very specific.
Rather than undo what progress has been made, we should be redoubling our efforts and giving the TSA the tools that they need for success rather than offering those same tools to private companies and not providing those same tools to the TSA to actually do their job.
Like everyone else on the committee, I'm looking forward to your testimony regarding privatization and all the other issues you're going to talk about.
And Mr. Chairman, I can't thank you enough for allowing me this extra time.
REP. : Would the gentlewoman yield? I just simply want to supplement her observations about the shortcomings at McCarran. I've been through there a couple of times to attend a conference, give a speech, try to get out of town. The lines are just untenable. And I heard the screeners saying, "We're short-handed. We don't have enough people." They were drawing people from other parts of the airport to come and work the security lines.
REP. BERKLEY: May I reclaim my time? The director of the airport and his personnel, his administrative personnel, have been on the lines because it's been so desperate. He pulled them out of the executive offices and the administrative offices, and they started doing screening themselves. That's difficult.