Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:  Marsha Blackburn
Date: June 7, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

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Mrs. BLACKBURN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

We all know that the TSA is out of control and Congress does have an institutional role to rein them back in. In 2005, the TSA administratively reclassified airport security screeners' title to Transportation Security Officers, or, as they are called, TSOs; and subsequently they changed their uniforms to resemble that of a Federal law enforcement officer. In 2008, a metal badge was added to this uniform. This title and the uniform, the changes that were made, Mr. Chairman, were simply made to give the TSOs an authoritative appearance.

Despite the new title and appearance, the TSOs and the BDOs, or Behavioral Detection Officers, do not receive any Federal law enforcement training, they're not eligible for Federal law enforcement benefits, and the TSOs and the BDOs are in name only, I remind you. The problem is they were set in place as airport security screeners; and administratively, since 2005, they have moved through all of these changes.

As of November 2009, the TSA had spent $1,027,560.10 on TSO badges. The current amount is unknown because TSA will not release the figure.

When Congress created the TSA, their presence at our Nation's security checkpoints at the airports was supposed to be in the capacity of airport security screeners, not transportation security officers or law enforcement officers. Almost every day of the week you can turn on the news and you see story after story where a TSO in uniform has been arrested or has acted inappropriately with a passenger. I believe many of these problems stem from the fact that the TSA does not consistently conduct what we would call routine preemployment or ongoing background checks of new and existing employees. Yet after inconsistent use of background checks and only 80 hours of classroom training, we are giving TSOs a badge and a uniform.

Meanwhile, if you were interested in joining most of our police departments, you would spend up to 6 months in an academy, where you would receive law enforcement training. This would come after you met certain application requirements and were accepted to that academy. And then, after you pass a test and complete that training, you would be given the right to wear a uniform and be called Officer. Here in D.C., the TSA has advertised for Washington Reagan International Airport TSOs on pizza boxes and on pumps at discount gas stations.

TSOs are abusing their uniforms and badges. Just days before Thanksgiving, a Virginia woman was raped after a TSO from Washington Dulles approached her wearing a TSA-issued uniform and flashed his badge. This past March, the TSO supervisor at Washington Dulles was arrested for allegedly running a prostitution ring. However, it's been reported that the individual pled guilty to a second degree assault in 1999. Why didn't TSA catch that while performing that background check before they gave him a badge and a uniform?

TSOs are abusing this limited authority. I just released a report this week that details 50 arrests involving the TSOs. These are reasons enough that we need to take them out of the uniforms, disallow the uniforms, and put them back to their job title of airport security screener.

I urge my colleagues to join the American Alliance of Airport Police Officers, which represents rank-and-file airport police officers in Dallas, L.A., and New York, who are tired of the TSA's mission creep and to adopt and support this amendment.

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Mrs. BLACKBURN. I thank the gentleman for yielding. One point where I think we all agree is that there are many good people that work with the TSA. I have some good friends that work with the TSA. But to my colleagues here on the floor, I would remind you, those that are our airport screeners and now called transportation security officers, they cannot detain anyone. If they find someone they want to detain, they have to call the airport police.

I would also remind you, in the legislation that was passed in this House, they are designated as an airport security screener to assist the traveling public. I will also remind you that these TSOs receive 80 hours of training--80 hours--and then 3 to 5 weeks of on-the-job training. Our air marshals, our policemen, those law enforcement officers are receiving much more training. And despite TSA's growing presence, more than 25,000 security breaches have occurred at U.S. airports in the last decade, and they are dealt with by the airport police.

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Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Chairman, that is the correct amendment, and I want to thank the committee for working with us to make certain that we get it right. One of the things that I have learned through my legislative career is that many times leg counsel will advise something is done one way and parliamentarians another way. And whether it was at the State level or the Federal level, it is good to say let's get it right and let's do it right the first time. You have less cleanup. If we did more of that in this House, we would be coming back to this floor to correct wrongs that have been done. Certainly our plate is full of them this year.

There are some great aspects in the DHS bill, but there is one I have a lot of concern on, and it is the funding that is there for these DHS VIPR teams.

Now, this is what has happened since 2005. The VIPR teams have begun conducting random searches and screenings at train stations, subways, bus terminals, ferry terminals, and other mass transit locations around the country.

The objective of VIPR deployments is to augment capabilities that disrupt and deter potential terrorist activity. However, to date, we have not received any report of a VIPR team successfully preventing a single terrorist activity, despite the fact that during this timeframe the FBI, the CIA, and police officers have been highly successful at discovering and apprehending terrorists here in the U.S.

Last year alone, VIPR teams ran more than 9,300 unannounced checkpoints and other search operations. This comes at a rate of approximately 170 to 190 deployments each week. This past October, Tennessee became the first State to conduct a statewide VIPR team operation with TSA transportation security officers. The VIPR team randomly inspected truck drivers on the side of Tennessee's highways. And I remind you, these are individuals that have no law enforcement training.

Recently, we even saw TSA TSOs at the Capitol South Metro station a few weeks ago randomly inspecting----

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Mrs. BLACKBURN. No, I do not yield. And I'm going to finish my statement and discuss the activity of these teams that are working outside of an airport.

What we have to remember is that TSOs were previously called airport security agents. Now they have become transportation security officers, and now they are working outside of the airport.

I want you to keep in mind this about what transpired at the Capitol South Metro. Passengers had their bags randomly inspected. Keep in mind that these TSOs did not inspect every bag that came in front of them. They entered the station looking through some random selections, and they ignored everybody that was leaving that station. They only took people going in, not people coming out. That should really give everybody concern right now. If there was some reason for actionable intelligence, you would have been searching everybody just a few steps away from this Capitol.

Funding for almost 200 VIPR deployments each week that are random and are not based on and driven by intelligence is not an effective national security policy, nor does it serve the American taxpayer well. Catching terrorists isn't a secret; it needs to be driven by intelligence, which is why the FBI, our Nation's law enforcement, and the Capitol Police have been successful at it.

I encourage my colleagues to support the amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mrs. BLACKBURN. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

And yes, all of these TSOs that are working outside of our Nation's airports, as I said, they were originally put in place as airport security officers. As the gentleman well knows--

Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Reclaiming my time, I asked a very direct question: Does the amendment include or not include VIPR teams?

I yield to the gentlewoman.

Mrs. BLACKBURN. At this point, the amendment is addressing those that are working outside of our Nation's airports. This is an overreach; it is a stretch. They are not put in place to do that, and I think the gentleman from North Carolina understands that very well.

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