On November 29, 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Aviation Subcommittee today conducted a hearing to examine the impact that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations and policies have on the aviation passenger experience and the free flow of aviation commerce. While government, industry, labor and consumer advocacy witnesses provided testimony on how improvements to TSA procedures and programs could benefit users of the aviation system, the TSA declined to participate in the hearing.
Rep. John Mica (R-FL), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation, both excoriated the TSA for not showing up and answering questions. In their joint press release after the hearing, Reps. Mica and Petri stated that there were three things that concerned them: (1) TSA was not a “lean, risk-based, effective agency;” (2) TSA had become bloated with federal employees; and (3) private industry should be brought in to resolve all of the problems currently faced by the TSA, with some governmental oversight.
Two days before the hearing, Acting TSA Administrator John Pistole issued a statement that neither he nor anyone from the TSA would be attending the hearing because the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee does not have jurisdiction over the TSA. In addition, the statement mentioned several initiatives that were underway to address the issues raised by Congressmen Petri and Mica:
TSA also continues to work to enhance security screening measures and to improve the passenger experience including through the expansion of TSA Pre✓™. As part of its risk-based security initiatives, TSA has modified screening procedures for passengers 12 and under and 75 and older while pursuing a multi-layered approach to security that includes behavior detection officers, explosives-detection systems and federal air marshals, among other measures both seen and unseen.
Moreover, many of the concerns stated in Congressmen Petri and Mica’s press release were specifically addressed in Acting Administrator Pistole’s November 19, 2012, letter to Rep. Mike Rogers, Chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Transportation Security, Committee on Homeland Security, which does, Mr. Pistole acknowledges, have jurisdiction over the TSA. For example, in reference to Rep. Petri’s concern that the TSA had become “bloated” and was not a “lean, risk-based effective agency,” Mr. Pistole pointed out in his letter that:
In the Report and other recent statements, you and members of your staff have advocated for drastic cuts in the size of the TSO [Transportation Security Officer] workforce while at the same time requesting more effective risk-based security. These demands are mutually exclusive. While the move towards risk-based security will create efficiencies in some areas, it requires staffing of the additional security layers that allow us to move away from one-size-fits-all screening without compromising security.
In conclusion, Mr. Pistole writes that he recognizes that Congress and the public
often hear anecdotes about travelers’ negative experiences with TSA. Those anecdotes do not account, however, for the large majority of the 1.8 million passengers who pass through our checkpoints each day with positive or neutral experiences. In fact, according to a Gallup poll released August 8, 2012, only 12 percent of the public thinks TSA is doing a poor job, while 54 percent thinks TSA is doing an excellent or good job. We must balance the need to provide passengers with a pleasant screening experience with the need to provide effective security. In doing so, we attempt to consider the views of the entire traveling public and other key stakeholders as much as possible.
This, however, does not discount the problems and issues that face the TSA that have been identified by the GAO and the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General, both of whom testified at yesterday’s hearing. While the GAO concentrated almost entirely on TSA’s failure to centralize and properly handle its customer complaint system, the DHS Inspector General found that although it “found several themes of inconsistent and insufficient oversight, policy implementation, and employee accountability that have the potential to adversely impact the airline consumer experience,” TSA is seeking to address those issues.
Indeed, Ms. Veda Shook, International President, Association of FLight Attendants, concluded her written remarks stating that
the passenger experience is better today under the Transportation Security Administration than it was before 9/11. Today, passengers are safer, screenings are becoming more efficient, and as a result, more people are encouraged to fly. Protecting our skies is a difficult job with massive responsibility, but a job that the TSA, as a key partner in the fabric of our nation’s aviation security, is well equipped to handle.
In addition to Ms. Shook’s statements, the IATA and Consumer Travel Alliance offered their “constructive criticism” as to what could be done to improve TSA’s performance and interactions with the flying public. Their suggestions ranged from having TSA Officers wear less intimidating uniforms and modifying the “forbidden items” list to instituting protocols that have been establish worldwide in airport security.
Witnesses and Written Testimony
- The Honorable John Pistole, Administrator, Transportation Safety Administration. (Invited, but did not attend).
- The Honorable Charles K. Edwards, Acting Inspector General, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- Mr. Steve Lord, Director, Government Accountability Office, Homeland Security and Justice Issues.
- Mr. Ken Dunlap, Global Director, Security & Travel Facilitation, International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- Ms. Veda Shook, International President, Association of Flight Attendants – CWA, AFL-CIO.
- Mr. Charlie Leocha, Director, Consumer Travel Alliance.