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Panel I of a Hearing of the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - Aviation Security Recommendations

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Federal News Service August 25, 2004 Wednesday

HEADLINE: PANEL I OF A HEARING OF THE AVIATION SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE TRANSPORTATION & INFRASTRUCTURE COMMITTEE,

SUBJECT: AVIATION SECURITY RECOMMENDATIONS IN THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT

CHAIRED BY: JOHN L. MICA (R-FL)

WITNESSES: JOHN F. LEHMAN, COMMISSIONER, 9/11 COMMISSION; DAVID M. STONE, ADMINISTRATOR, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

BODY:

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REP. SHELLEY BERKLEY (D-NV): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I want to thank you and the ranking member for holding these hearings. I think they're very important.

I do have a formal presentation. I think in the interest of time I'm going to submit it for the record. I don't think there's anything I can say that hasn't already been stated. I share the concerns of my colleagues.

And I'm looking forward to your testimony to start working in a collaborative effort to make our nation's skies truly safe for the flying public. And thank you very much for both of your service to our nation and to this Congress.

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REP. BERKLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And, again, I want to thank both of you gentlemen for being here. Since my time is limited, I'm going to restrict my questions to three issues, one for the Commissioner, and two for the Admiral. The first one is, I know of the three recommendations that affect aviation security that the 9/11 commission came up with, one of them recommends that the Department of Homeland Security, ultimately the TSA, develop a risk-based strategic plan to defend the transportation assets. We've heard from the Admiral what they're implementing and working on right now. Does that meet the criteria, and does that fit the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission?

MR. LEHMAN: We can't say until we see it, because just submitting a piece of paper, particularly if it's one that has to please 83 different committees in two Houses of Congress, we may or may not. It could even make the problem worse. We're currently, as you know, spending 90 percent of the Transportation security funds on aviation. Whether that's the right percentage, I doubt. But we'll wait and see, it's long overdue.

REP. BERKLEY: I do believe we need an overall strategic plan, and then we need to adequately fund it, and implement it. And I think we've had a tremendous disconnect.

Admiral, can you address this, do you think what you are working on now is going to, in fact, comply with the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission?

MR. STONE: I do. I think these modal plans, with their emphasis on threat criticality, vulnerability, and then risk-based measures will delineate the way ahead for us, and also allow us to make decisions concerning budget.

REP. BERKLEY: Can you give me some idea of when these plans will be presented to Congress?

MR. STONE: It's our goal that, in conjunction with the sector specific plan which will be done by the end of the year, that these modal plans also will be completed, and we're working hard to accelerate those, because we have much of that work that every day we're doing across the nation. It's an issue of codifying it, and making sure it's very clear within the document what we're doing.

REP. BERKLEY: Admiral, I want to thank you for hearing the concerns of the Nevada Congressional Delegation. You've been most responsive to our needs, and tomorrow, when I'm back in the district, we're going to be opening C&D gates, with the new security personnel. And I also want to emphasize, and I'm sure, the reason I do this is because I'm sure if McCarran has this issue, that every other airport does, as well. Once the baggage screeners come online, we cannot take them away from our passenger screeners in order to fulfill that obligation, as well. I would hope that we would be able to-this Congress would be able to provide adequate resources. I know that we keep asking you to do these things, and mandating, yet we cap the number of screeners, we don't give adequate financial support for you to do the job that we've asked you to do.

I think if we are going to, in fact, mandate the TSA to do things, and the airlines to do things, then we ought to, in fact, provide the resources to do it. But, I just want to thank you for that, and remind you that these needs are across the board.

The third area I'd like to discuss with you, and I'm not sure that this is your area of jurisdiction, but I've had a hard time finding out whose area of jurisdiction it is, that has to do with our air marshals. One is, I believe there are not enough air marshals. Number two, this ridiculous dress code that they have, that they have to be in a coat and tie, which makes them look like the head of the TSA, as opposed to blending in with the flying public, seems ridiculous to me. And number three, there's a new policy now that when they stay at the hotels that are assigned to them, they have to actually identify themselves as air marshals in order to get the reduced government rate.

Now, it seems to me if they're supposed to be under cover that: A, they ought to be dressing appropriately for air travel; and B, they ought not have to identify themselves in a public setting in order to get the lower government rate for staying in that room. This policy, I think, puts these people at risk, and is yet another bureaucratic stupidity that makes absolutely not sense to me, particularly after 9/11. Can you comment on that?

MR. STONE: The federal air marshals report to the Immigration and Custom Enforcement division of Border and Transportation Security. They're collocated, though, with our operations center in Herndon. We're very closely integrated with the air marshals. They count on TSA to ensure that we are partnered with them, for how they access into the airports, for reasons you mentioned, and helping them blend in and get into the air craft without standing out. They're very much in sync with the themes you talked about here just now, about wanting to make sure that they're doing everything in their power to blend in with their surroundings, so that they can be more effective. I'll be happy, because I meet every week with ICE representatives, they're right there with us, to ensure that we do everything we can to partner with them to facilitate that.

REP. BERKLEY: I would appreciate it if you took this message back to the geniuses who keep implementing these policies, and letting them know they're putting these people in harm's way, and putting the flying public at risk, as well.

Thank you very much.

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