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Public Statements

Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2014

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. BLACKBURN. Madam Chairman, as I have stated earlier during the floor debate, TSA transportation security officers are not Federal law enforcement officers. They do not have any Federal law enforcement training, nor are they eligible to receive Federal law enforcement benefits.

When Congress created the TSA in 2001, we defined TSA screeners in law as Federal security screeners. Their role as defined by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act is to screen passengers and luggage at airports across the country.

However, beginning in 2005, TSA administratively reclassified TSA security screeners as transportation security officers and began to upgrade their uniforms to reflect those of Federal law enforcement officers with metal officer badges.

Time magazine contributor Amanda Ripley succinctly summed up the transition by stating that TSA was ``outfitting frontline employees with new gold badges and royal blue shirts as part of a broader effort to improve their image and make people, to put it bluntly, hate them less.''

The problem is that TSA officers do not have any Federal law enforcement training to reflect their officer title or appearance.

Law enforcement personnel for air transportation security are clearly defined in section 44903 of title 49, U.S. Code. U.S. Code states that ``law enforcement'' means individuals who are authorized to carry and use firearms, vested with the power of arrest, and are identifiable by distinctive marks of authority.

TSA officers do not meet these basic requirements of our law. Their training consists of 2 weeks in a classroom to learn how to screen passengers and bags, followed by 2 to 4 weeks of on-the-job training.

That is why it is troubling to me and many of my constituents that TSA is allowing their officers to take part in DHS VIPR team operations outside our airports. These operations are currently taking place on our Nation's highways, in our rail stations, ferry terminals, bus stations, and other mass transit facilities across the country. Adopting this amendment would end this practice.

The American public should be outraged that our national security strategy to prevent a horrific attack at a mass transit facility includes randomly sending people with no Federal law enforcement authority to randomly select and search citizens without any actionable intelligence. I strongly believe that Congress has an obligation to ensure that the title and appearance of Federal employees properly reflect their training and background.

There are already enough well-documented concerns questioning whether these individuals can even carry out the basic functions of their jobs within our airports. Here is an example:

Last year, a TSA officer whistleblower in Nashville produced documents showing that TSA officers in charge of screening a passenger's bags were receiving failing grades at being able to identify potential threats and were not receiving remedial training.

Another example is a GAO report, which I have with me right here, published in January, which shows that the TSA is failing to deploy passenger-screening canine teams to airports and terminals with the highest risk as determined by the agency's high-risk list. Furthermore, the report lays out concerns that the current protocols in place ``are not appropriate for a suicide bombing attempt requiring an immediate law enforcement response.''

If that's not concerning enough, there is a DHS Office of the Inspector General report released just last month on TSA's Behavior Detection Officers--and Mr. Thompson of Mississippi referenced this earlier--which only consists of TSA's Transportation Security Officers, and it raised concerns about their performance:

TSA senior airport officials at airports contacted raised concerns regarding the selection, allocation and performance of the BDOs.

TSA does not use an evaluation period to determine whether new BDOs can effectively perform behavior detection.

For these reasons, we should end this program and restrict them to the airports.

I yield back the balance of my time.


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