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Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, at the very outset, let me commend Chairman Thompson and his staff and the majority side for the cooperation that they extended on this bill for making a truly bipartisan effort. I also want to commend the chair of the subcommittee, SHEILA JACKSON-LEE, for her bipartisan spirit and also, in a special way, Congressman Dent, the ranking member of the subcommittee.

This, as the chairman said, was a collaborative effort. There was tremendous cooperation. Obviously, there's some differences between what we wanted and what ended up in this bill, but basically, it's a fine bill.

And, Mr. Chairman, I also want to commend the outstanding men and women of the TSA for the job that they do day in and day out in protecting us. I see Mr. Pascrell is here. Just in the New York-New Jersey region alone, last year they inspected 110 million passengers coming through those airports, and again, last week alone, they confiscated 23 illegal firearms that were going through airports. So they do a very, very dedicated and outstanding job. And also, as far as rail transportation, VIPER Teams have become a vital part of our homeland security apparatus.

Having said that, let me just mention some of the concerns I do have about the bill.

One is, Mr. Chairman, that there is, as of now, as of yet, no TSA administrator. Also, my understanding is that there is not even anyone in the wings. There's no one being considered, no one's being mentioned to be the TSA administrator, and yet we put together this bill, which I think is a good bill, but without any input from the head of TSA. And since this is a 2-year authorization, we're going to be basically laying out a plan, a plan of action for the next 2 years, I would have preferred that we could have waited until we got an administrator in place to work with us on it.

Additionally, Mr. Chairman, I raised the issue--and I think these two issues are now interrelated--the issue of an authorization bill and the issue of jurisdiction. This will be, as I see it, the second year in a row that the committee will not have done an authorization bill. And yet next week in the appropriations subcommittee, the Homeland Security appropriations bill will be marked up, and the appropriators will act without our committee's input on 80 percent of the Department of Homeland Security's budget. They will act without our input on 75 percent of the Department of Homeland Security's personnel. And they will consider funding of programs, like the 287(g) program, border security, student visa enforcement, FEMA's hurricane response capabilities, the Coast Guard's port security programs, Secret Service protection of the President, to name a few, all without guidance from this committee.

Now, I believe the main reason for this--and I understand the position that the chairman is in--the main, I think, as I see the reason is that because of the multiplicity of jurisdictional claims to homeland security, it is very difficult for our committee to move forward. Now, the 9/11 Commission, one of their strongest recommendations was that homeland security be consolidated in one committee.

Several years ago, there were 88 committees and subcommittees that claimed some piece of jurisdiction over homeland security. That number is now up to 108, and this should not be a partisan issue. Both Secretary Chertoff in the previous administration and Secretary Napolitano in the Obama administration have called for consolidation, and yet it's not being done.

So, for instance, if we had gone forward and tried to do an authorization bill, we couldn't authorize the Coast Guard or FEMA because the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure would object. We couldn't authorize Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service, or U.S. Citizen Immigration Services because the Committee on Judiciary would object. And we can't authorize Customs and Border Protection because the Ways and Means Committee would object.

So I think it's really important that we make an effort over the next year during this Congress to implement, again, one of the most fundamental concerns of the 9/11 Commission, and that was to consolidate jurisdiction in one committee, the Homeland Security Committee.

And I believe that in 2005 and 2006, when this side of the aisle did control the committee, we did get authorization bills done, and there were jurisdictional disputes. We won them, and I think that was the direction we were going in, and the direction we should continue to go in.

I gave the chairman tremendous credit 2 years ago when we adopted H.R. 1, which implemented many of the 9/11 Commission recommendations, but this fundamental one still has not been done. And I realize that no one likes to cede jurisdiction, no one likes to give up turf, but the fact is we're talking about an issue that threatens the survival of our country, homeland security. And so long as we have this dysfunctional system where jurisdiction is spread out over so many committees of the Congress, I don't believe we can fully do the job that we should do.

The chairman does a good job, the staff does a good job, I believe we do a very good job on our side of the aisle, but we are limited because of these jurisdictional limitations. And so as we go forward on this debate today, I would hope we would keep that in mind, and as we go forward over the course of the year, we keep that in mind, also, as we try to do the job that we were established to do when we became a permanent committee back in 2005.

Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that Mr. Dent, the ranking member of the subcommittee, be authorized to control the remainder of my time, and I reserve the balance of our time.

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