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No-Hassle Flying Act of 2012

Floor Speech

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Location: Unknown

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Ms. JACKSON LEE of Texas. Let me thank the ranking member of the committee. It's always good to be able to thank him, Madam Speaker, for his leadership and service. I think we are safer because Members of Congress like Congressman Thompson, the ranking member, and our chairman, Congressman King, have, on a number of occasions, come together around the idea of America's security. I want to express my appreciation for having been able to serve on the committee for a number of years.

It gives me also a moment to say to the Speaker, or to acknowledge Congresswoman Emerson, for her service as well and to thank you so very much for being a person who loves America. I think that should be our litmus test when we rise on this floor for those of us who love this country.

As the ranking member, and having served as the chairwoman of this committee in previous terms, I know how important it is to provide safety in the transportation modes for the United States of America. This bill, the No-Hassle Flying Act of 2012--and I thank the sponsor both in the House and the Senate--provides a measure of recognition and acceptance of foreign countries that are making efforts to have consistent security procedures and technology to have an easier travel process for passengers who are deplaning in the United States but going on to another domestic destination. So I want to acknowledge the Senator from Minnesota, Ms. Klobuchar, who had this legislation passed in the Senate, and our House sponsor as well.

What the basis of this legislation is, by relieving the need to rescreen every piece of baggage arriving in the United States from countries where we have strong bonds and screening agreements in place, efficiencies will be realized and our screeners can focus more attention on those items we know least about. And the term ``screeners,'' let me correct that and say the Transportation Security Administration personnel. That is probably the most maligned group of American public servants, those who work in the cause of the United States and the safety and security of the United States. But at their best, when they are trained, as I have worked so hard to insist on, to increase their professional development training--and we have made great strides with Administrator Pistole and previous administrators, so much so that as I travel through airports I can see the sense of pride and respect that this group of Americans have for their job. So when we speak of screening, we're talking about serious work that has to be done to ensure the safety and security of America.

We want to be able to work with our allies. This is not an immigration reform initiative, but it is similar to the visa waiver programs, where we have a list of countries that we feel confident that their procedures are not only equal to ours, but their policies, their alliance with us goes decades, and we believe that their citizens can come into the United States.

This particular legislation tries to get the personnel of the TSA to focus on race-based screening that many of my fellow members on the committee have been calling for, and of course that the administrator has listened to. This legislation represents the kind of commonsense security measure this Congress must focus on to make both the Department of Homeland Security and its components work more.

It is, of course, my hope that we can look forward to more work being done with transportation security, that we can look to providing, as I introduced legislation dealing with air marshals, both their funding and increased utilization on some of our flights coming into the United States; that we will have the opportunity to do a transportation authorization bill again like the one I joined with Chairman Thompson on and we reauthorized in the 111th Congress that drew bipartisan support. And of course Mr. King has worked with us on this legislation.

So this particular No Fly for me has merit to it. But as I rise to support the thought behind the legislation passed by the Senate, I also remind our colleagues that air travel is still dangerous. Whether it is the shoe bomber, whether it is the Christmas day bomber, whether it is thwarted incidences that we will never hear about, whether it is the constant reporting of intelligence and classified information that suggests how vulnerable our airlines and airports are, whether it is an accidental or incidental intrusion on the tarmac or the perimeters of the airport, whether it is the accidental entry of a public person, either visitor or traveling public, that goes into an unauthorized area that causes airports to be shut down--incidences that occurred in Newark and other places--we have to realize that we have to be particularly sensitive to this question of securing the traveling public, and particularly Americans. That is why, in the wisdom of the Congress and others, we created the Transportation Security Administration that had a mandated and Federalized workforce of security screeners to inspect airline passengers and their baggage. It gave them broad authority to assess the vulnerabilities in aviation security and take steps to mitigate these risks. I'm glad that they exist.

So I have an acute understanding of TSA's role in aviation security, and I also appreciate congressional oversight. But I further appreciate that, even with that broad discretion, we have to be keenly aware that in the best of all circumstances some loophole, some misstep can occur.

I represent one of the largest systems, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, the William Hobby system. As I would want for that airport system, I would want a system of security for everyone. So this idea of allowing unfettered transfer of your bags coming from a nation that has been an ally, but that has put into place procedures that we can document that are in fact adequate, accurate, and superior, I'm going to raise it to that level, because adequacy is not a basis for fighting the dangers of terrorism.

I only raise a flag of caution--and maybe a red flag--that it is important that the Department of Homeland Security study this carefully. Make sure that they look at the technology and look at the process that in essence will be put in place. Because, again, all good things are meant for good, but we know what can happen if in some way we are in error. I don't want this to be a basis for error, I want this to be a basis for good. I want this to be the intention of the bill, which is to ameliorate some of those delays associated with the rescreening of bags transported on commercial flights from international locations.

I want those traveling to the United States to be welcomed with a smile who are here to do good, and I want them not to miss their connecting flight--and it might be one of us. But our main focus is to secure the homeland.

So to my colleagues, to the chairman and ranking member, I join you in supporting this legislation, but I ask that the Department of Homeland Security, the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security, who is to give this discretion to waiving rescreening pursuant to a preclearance agreement between the United States and a foreign nation, that seeks to ensure this process works, be very keen and careful of reviewing the process, having the resources to ensure that the technology is superior and that we are constantly reviewing how this is working.

I'm sure that we will see many smiles of our traveling public. They will welcome that convenience. In the course of the convenience, I also argue for security. I know that that will be the case.

I will ask my colleagues to support this legislation, and as well, we continue to secure the homeland.

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