WASHINGTON — The congressman who held 22 hearings over a year and a half that tracked public backlash against the Transportation Security Administration says he's ready to offer legislation to save the agency from itself.
"The truth is this is a very dangerous world," Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Transportation Security Subcommittee, said in an interview. "TSA not surviving isn't an option. We have got to make it, though, smarter and leaner."
The Alabama Republican said he plans to offer a proposal next year, and its chances will improve if Republicans win control of the Senate in the November elections. The legislation would be shaped to force change onto a reluctant agency and congressional Democrats while blunting calls from within his own party to eliminate the TSA altogether, he said.
The legislation would give airports more power to hire private contractors for screening and make it tougher for the TSA to refuse, Rogers says. It also would scale back passenger pat-downs; require changes in how the agency buys screening equipment; mandate periodic reassessments of security procedures; and possibly eliminate the agency's list of items that can't be carried onto planes, he said.
"There's not another department inside the U.S. government that interacts with the American public more intimately and on a more regular basis than the TSA," said Rick "Ozzie" Nelson, director of the homeland security and counter-terrorism program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "As long as every conversation about the TSA starts with a horror story, we're not going to have the agency we want."
Congress has an important oversight role and TSA has to be able to work with lawmakers, agency Administrator John Pistole said in an interview.