Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

Features

September 29, 2012

TSA pat-down horror stories prompt private-screener plan

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

"If something goes wrong today at Dulles, I don't think people will be blaming Congress," Pistole said, referring to Washington Dulles International Airport. "They might, but they'll definitely be looking at TSA. It's good to have ideas and suggestions and everything, but ultimately somebody's responsible for it — and TSA's responsible."

The Senate has been more satisfied with TSA. In contrast to repeated House hearings under Rogers, the Senate Commerce Committee, headed by West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller, has held one general oversight hearing in the past two years. Despite "growing pains" in TSA's 10 years of existence, the agency has become leaner and more nimble under Pistole, Rockefeller said in a statement.

"Every agency must efficiently and wisely use taxpayer money," Rockefeller said. "Congress will continue to conduct oversight of TSA's programs and policies to make certain the agency has the resources necessary to meet evolving threats."

The size of TSA's workforce, and especially the number of airport screeners, has been a particular focus of Republican lawmakers. About $5.3 billion of the TSA's $7.8 billion budget and almost 95 percent of its 55,722 employees are devoted to aviation security, according to the Homeland Security Department's most recent budget request.

House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, another Republican eager to scale back TSA, wrote language into this year's Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill to force TSA to approve airports' applications to hire private screening companies unless it can demonstrate that the change wouldn't improve security.

Before that bill passed, Pistole had ordered a freeze on moves to private screeners besides the 16 airports where they had been approved. Pistole said he still isn't convinced that private companies will reduce costs, and said federal screeners can respond more rapidly to changing security threats.

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