Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Stevens and Co-Chairman Inouye have scheduled a Full Committee hearing on the President's FY2006 Budget Proposal for the Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration and Related Programs on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 at 10a.m. in Room 253 of the Russell Building. Click here for video of this hearing.
Opening Statement of Chairman Ted Stevens Followed by Questions & Answers with Witnesses Senate Commerce Committee Hearing on Transportation Security Administration Budget February 15, 2005
I welcome the witnesses who are here to discuss the President’s fiscal year 2006 budget proposal for the Transportation Security Administration.
Since September 11th, we have made major improvements in securing all modes of transportation in this country. Still, much remains to be done.
Congress must carefully consider the 120 percent fee increase proposed on travelers. The fee increase, we’re told, could result in lost revenue for an industry that is already on the financial ropes.
Last year alone, the airline industry lost about $10 billion. The question we have to ask is: Is this the right time to add another $1.5 billion in fees to an industry that already pays, and that travelers pay into, $15 billion in taxes and fees to a variety of government agencies?
TSA remains behind on the procurement and installation of explosive detection machines in airports around the country. The Known Traveler program is also behind. And, background checks on airport workers remain and issue.
Questions and Answers with The Honorable David M. Stone, Assistant Secretary, Transportation Security Administration, and Ms. Cathleen A. Berrick, Director, Homeland Security and Justice, U.S. General Accounting Office:
Chairman Stevens: You have an enormous responsibility. This is not just transportation of airline security. It is the total transportation security of the whole country. But, we seem to be putting emphasis only on the air passengers to contribute to the cost of the security that we’ve insisted on putting in place throughout the transportation system. Do you have any plans to put fees on any other portion of the transportation system as we go forward with these plans that you’ve documented in your statement and that Ms. Berrick has commented upon.
Assistant Secretary Stone: I have no plans right now to assign additional fees.
Chairman Stevens: I’m talking about other than airline passengers. Is anyone else going to pay other than the taxpayer and airline passengers?
Assistant Secretary Stone: In the other modes of transportation, sir?
Chairman Stevens: In terms of putting up the security system that we have that covers rail, bus, air, everything – I presume that is what your statement says – total transportation programs of the United States are subject to your jurisdiction and you have taxes only on the airline passengers. Now, do you plan on putting fees or taxes on any other person that uses some of those transportation systems?
Assistant Secretary Stone: We have no plans to put additional fees on any of those other modal areas other than those that I understand currently exist.
Chairman Stevens: Tell me why? I mean all of them, the buses, they’re covered by your security system, trains are covered by your security system, boats are covered by your security system. Why should only airline passengers contribute beyond taxpayers for the security system?
Assistant Secretary Stone: I think a user fee approach with all those modes of transportation merits review for the very aspect of this theme that it really has to be a shared responsibility. Right now the general taxpayer has a share of roughly 57 percent of the aviation screening and this just adjusts it down to 20 percent. There’s always going to be that percentage of sharing and so I would agree that each mode of transportation merits review for what type of fees are paid for both by users as well as the general taxpayer.
Chairman Stevens: Do you have plans for any additional security measures that apply to automobiles in general upon our highways?
Assistant Secretary Stone: I do not sir, for automobiles.
Chairman Stevens: Is that a subject that’s left totally for local and state jurisdiction?
Assistant Secretary Stone: Currently, I do not have visibility on whether or not the states and local jurisdictions are reviewing the automobile piece of that. Our responsibilities for highways, though, are very clear. And, therefore, the $20 million Highway Watch Program, which we work with ATA, American Trucking Association, is the foundation of that. With regard to fees for automobiles in support of that, I have no plans for that.
Chairman Stevens: Well, let me tell you a little story that I heard in one of the airports – I’ll not say which one it was because I don’t want to get people running out and asking too many questions about it. But, one of the security people at an airport that I flew into told me that he had noticed an automobile in their parking lot several times that had a very distinctive license plate and the person appeared to be doing things erratically and was obviously from the Middle East. He decided to put that license plate up on the Net and a couple of weeks later he got a call from a distant city, all the way across the country saying that they had seen this license plate and wanted to know what did he know about the people that were involved. Well, he told them why he had done it, the automobile was suspicious in what it was doing. And, they tracked that automobile in the other city and when it came back he got notice all the long the line of how that car was coming across the country and when they finally found it back in its original city, it did do some things that were fairly out of the ordinary and they picked this person up. It turned out that was an employee of the airport and under questioning he had not flown because he is on the no-fly list. But, they had tracked him using license plates. Now, aren’t we missing a whole area of security threats by screening only the people at airports, only the people getting on and off airplanes? We know there was a terrible disaster that came from airlines being used as weapons of mass destruction, but aren’t the people who are capable of doing that using other means of transportation now? They’re not flying, they’re on the no fly list. Now, don’t you have any plans for extending the system of security?
Assistant Secretary Stone: We do. In fact, every morning we spend about two hours reviewing a report from the Terror Screening Center, to use the example you just gave, in which that type of information on suspicious cars, license plate, law enforcement action is reviewed by TSA each morning from an inter-modal point of view – trains, mass transit, rail, highways, pipeline security – all of that intelligence in the Terror Screening Center is integrated into a two hour morning brief where we look at each mode of transportation, what the threats are, and how they interrelate to one another. And, so, that very approach of it’s all related, it has to be inter-modal, and the Terror Screening databases apply, not just to aviation, but need to be looked at across all modes and so that morning brief is the centerpiece of what we do because it gets at that very issue of domain awareness and being able to follow-up on leads and how they connect to one another.
Ms. Berrick: And, Mr. Chairman, if I can add to that, GAO is currently doing several reviews, looking at other modes of transportation. And, the difference between aviation and other modes is that other modes of transportation are inherently open to promote the flow of goods and people. For example, we’re looking at rail security. So, in looking at rail security, TSA will need to consider different security measures that would be appropriate for that environment. And, one of the issues we’re looking at is what is being done in other countries to secure their rail systems and can that be applied to the United States. You asked earlier about taxes for other modes of transportation. Right now, for other modes of transportation, the transit operators are primarily funding security enhancements. They get some grants and they also get some assistance from the Department of Transportations, but primarily they are shouldering the burden for security improvements.
Chairman Stevens: Thank you very much. My time is up. I intend to go further in this when it comes around to my time again. It does seem to me that other people beyond airline passengers ought to be paying for this security – the taxpayers, obviously. We don’t even call these taxes, we call them fees now, right? They’re taxes as far as the airline passenger is concerned, but there’s no such burden on other people who use other forms of transportation and I think that’s wrong.
Questions – Round Two:
Chairman Stevens: Our screening that is taking place now is really driven so much by the past and not really in tune with the future. Now, for instance, I saw a display of a fellow with a deck of cards that stood about five feet away from a person holding a big carrot and he sliced off a piece of that carrot, just by throwing a card. I saw another person take a credit card and cut through what would be the thickness of a person’s neck in two seconds, much faster than a knife could do it. Yet, we seem to be really zeroing in on how can we pick up knives? Has any knife been the cause of an attempted hijacking since 9-11?
Assistant Secretary Stone: Not that I’m aware of, no sir.
Chairman Stevens: But, we’re spending a lot of money to get them, aren’t we?
Assistant Secretary Stone: We sure are sir, in the wake of the box cutters.
Chairman Stevens: Are they the threat now? Isn’t the threat now chemicals and substances and the ability to use a plane as a weapon not withstanding the fact that there are Air Marshals and they can’t get through to the pilots? Hasn’t the system changed now? Do we really need to spend more money on trying to pick up knives and fingernail files?
Assistant Secretary Stone: I would agree with you – the threat has changed in that the focus on box cutters and knives and the regulations pertaining to them should be revisited.
Chairman Stevens: I’ve got to tell you in my State, we only have one main road and we have a railroad. No one on the road and no one on the railroad pays any fees, but every time you get on an airplane you pay a fee now. As a matter of fact, in most instances, to get in from the rural areas, you have to get on two, maybe three planes to get to Anchorage. Now, there’s a maximum they have to pay in one day as I understand it. You want to increase that maximum by three dollars. So, those of us that don’t have trains and roads and buses and taxis, who commute from maybe Kenai in Alaska, it’s about 50 (air) miles south of Anchorage, they commute back and forth, they pay this fee twice a day. If you commuted across the river up there in New York or New Jersey, you wouldn’t pay any security fee. Yet, you’re a great deal more of a risk to the nation’s security than you are if you travel from Kenai to Anchorage and back everyday for work. I think this fee system is very burdensome on people in rural areas and for that reason I hope to have another hearing on the whole subject of fees, but right now, I want to thank the two of you for what you’ve done in coming today. I do think we have some other questions we have to ask you. For instance, I don’t see anything in this proposal to fund the Letters of Intent that were issued for baggage screening devices and there’s a whole priority list, as I understand it. Our airport in Anchorage is the tenth biggest airport, but were fifteenth on the security list, little questions like that I’d like to have some time to ask you. What really are we doing with regard to the situation where – I saw this – a woman getting on a plane in Sitka going 25 minutes to Juneau, an elderly lady, a grandmother, obviously, with three kids, her name pops up, so she goes through all of this stuff and she’s going to be on the plane less time than it took to go through the screening process. Shouldn’t there be some differences for intra-state travel in a State like mine? You don’t search people getting on buses, you don’t search people getting in taxis. Yet, we use airplanes for taxis and we’re searched every time we get on a plane. Now, I think that this whole system is not sensitive to the situation of the passenger. It’s just one size fits all. You can go up to Nome, two planes a day, you’ve got two flights a day and they’re going to search those two planes. As a matter of fact, the people getting off have been searched, too, and they’re just going within their own State and couldn’t be a threat to anybody’s economy or security. I really think this thing needs an intensive look. We intend to continue these hearings. We intend to dig into this and find out why do we all have to wear the same pair of shoes to get on an airplane in different parts of the United States and why don’t the people who are the greatest risk – the ones who don’t fly – the no-fly people, they’re in our community, how are we going to ferret them out? I really think this Committee – that is why we insisted on keeping jurisdiction over TSA – our jurisdiction covers all means of transportation, yet it seems that your main focus is airline transportation, primarily because of what happened on 9-11. And, that is a serious, serious thing. But, we’ve done everything we can to prevent that from rehappening, but I don’t see what we’re doing to prevent something even worse from happening in terms of chemical substances, biological substances, and, really, the protection of massive areas as opposed to imposing these fees on people who use commuters every day to go back to forth to make their living.
Daniel K. InouyeSenator
Contact: Andy Davis (202) 224-4546
Opening Statement of Senator Daniel K. Inouye Hearing on the President’s FY2006 Budget Request for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
February 15, 2005
Mr. Chairman, as we begin this new session, I rank our oversight of the Transportation Security Administration as one of our highest priorities. As the primary Committee of jurisdiction for transportation security, I’m looking forward to a spirited and consistent review of TSA’s work as we continue to make progress securing all modes of transportation.
I have 3 principle areas of concern:
1) Congress agreed in 2001, by nearly unanimous votes in the House and Senate, that transportation security must be a national security function. However, between TSA’s endless reorganizations and the recent rhetoric about returning to private security screening companies, it is becoming apparent that this central, guiding principle is being eroded. If we lose sight of this principle, we will forget one of the most important lessons of September 11th.
2) Aviation security has received 90% of TSA’s funds and virtually all of its attention. There is simply not enough being done to address port, rail, motor carrier, hazardous material shipment, and pipeline security. That must change, quickly.
3) The Administration is proposing to increase aviation security fees. This makes no sense to me. The airline industry is bordering on total bankruptcy, and the Administration wants to add to its costs. Yet at the same time the Administration is demanding that its unaffordable tax cuts be made permanent. I don’t follow their thinking, and quite frankly, I don’t believe the proposal will go far.
Mr. Chairman, over the years, and particularly since 9-11, this Committee has led the effort to make transportation security a matter of national security. We crafted two landmark bills, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 and the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, to ensure that funding and programs were developed to completely change the way we address security. The September 11th tragedy, the Madrid train bombing and many other attacks remain locked in our conscience as we try to do all we can to avoid another attack.
The continued threat risk is real and the vulnerabilities are real, across all modes of transportation.
We recently witnessed a rail tank cargo accident - not a terrorist attack - in Graniteville, SC. An entire town had to be evacuated, demonstrating the potential harm if someone does target a rail tank car. The District of Columbia was so concerned about rail cars carrying hazardous materials traversing the city they adopted a resolution to ban them.
Port security is of particular interest to me. My state of Hawaii is entirely dependent upon shipping and the steady flow of maritime commerce. The dock strike at the port of LA/Long Beach in 2001 caused people in my state to begin running out of basic supplies. If an attack occurs, it could be weeks before service is renewed.
It is important to remember that 95% of the nation’s cargo comes through the ports, so a port incident will send devastating shockwaves through the entire economy, impacting every state. Yet the security initiatives at most ports have been, to this point, woefully underfunded, and most ports are ill-prepared for an attack. Unfortunately, our maritime system is only as strong as its weakest link. If there is an incident at any one port, the whole system will screech to a halt, as we scramble to ensure security at other ports. If we had to shut down our entire port system, the economic damage would be widespread, catastrophic and possibly irreversible.
Considering these simple observations, I cannot comprehend the Administration’s lack of serious attention and commitment to port, rail, motor carrier, hazardous material shipment and pipeline security initiatives.
Security funding for all modes of transportation beyond aviation has been desperately lacking. The 9/11 Commission found, “over 90% of the nation’s $5.3 billion annual investment in the TSA goes to aviation ... [and] ...current efforts do not yet reflect a forward-looking strategic plan.” And according to Senate Banking Committee estimates, the federal government has spent $9.16 per airline passenger each year on enhanced security measures, while spending less than a penny annually per person on security measures for other modes of transportation.
But considering the real threat risk and the constant talk about our War on Terror, I find it even harder to understand how the Administration has forgotten that, in a post-September 11th world, transportation security is national security. Based on the President’s Budget, there are apparently some in the Administration who seem to believe that our work is done. Their budget proposal suggests a wholesale dismantling of the Transportation Security Administration. In the last 2 years, we have witnessed a near constant reorganization that, under the current proposal, now makes Maritime and Land security virtually nonexistent at TSA. The changes suggest either a fundamental lack of understanding of what it will take to ensure the security of all transportation modes, bureaucratic mismanagement, or worse yet, the Administration’s complete loss of a sense of national urgency.
The President’s Budget recommends shifting critical work away from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to other organizations within DHS that have neither the expertise nor the necessary authority to be effective. In my view, further decentralizing the responsibilities of TSA will destroy the remaining, limited accountability that TSA provides for transportation security.
The problems with the Budget proposal go further: it offers inadequate funding for the U.S. Coast Guard to meet both its increased, homeland security responsibilities, and its traditional missions like search and rescue and enforcement of coastal laws; it creates an odd rearrangement of the security grant programs that not only defies Congressional directives, but adds bureaucracy and decreases accountability; it cedes TSA’s regulatory authority of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program; and the list goes on.
On aviation security, the Administration’s proposal creates as many problems as it aims to solve. While TSA spending in FY06 would increase by $156 million, this funding level depends on $1.5 billion generated by increased security fees on airline passengers. Since this proposal was unveiled, there has been no shortage of airline and industry analysts that have raised deep concerns over what effect this may have on the future of existing air carriers.
The Administration cannot satisfy its budget needs on the backs of one industry. I know that several other countries and airport authorities impose security fees, but with perhaps one or two small exceptions, no one imposes all of the national security costs on the airlines. We can debate how much we need for security, but it does not make any sense to place the burden for new DHS revenue on an airline industry that is bordering on total bankruptcy, when at the same time the Administration is demanding that its unaffordable tax cuts be made permanent.
The U.S. economy depends on a strong commercial aviation industry. Since September 11th, the U.S. air carriers have taken unprecedented steps to cut their costs, and their employees have been true heros. In the face of steep layoffs and cuts in pay and benefits, the workers have been selflessly supportive of the industry and still manage to provide the highest level of service possible day in and day out. I think we must be very careful in dealing with issues that will have wide ramifications for the aviation industry and its workers.
TSA should be aggressively seeking improvements to the current transportation security regimes for all modes and promoting the technological and capital improvements that will save considerable money in the long run while improving security. Instead, we have been given a budget that seeks short-term solutions that, I believe, will have negative consequences in the long term.
Given the many misplaced priorities that I see in the President’s Budget proposal, it is clear that the Congress needs to help refocus the Department.
I have been discussing the real needs of the U.S. transportation security system with my fellow Committee members, and we have been developing a transportation security reauthorization proposal to provide further direction to the Department’s cargo security functions, to strengthen aviation, maritime, rail, hazardous materials, and pipeline security efforts, and enhance interagency cooperation. The proposal will incorporate several Commerce Committee-reported and Senate-passed bills from the prior Congress and will also put forth new ideas to enhance transportation security across all modes of transportation.
We expect a fully funded, effective operating Administration that can:
- Provide security to the traveling public and instills confidence in the first line of defense - be it an airport screener or a seaport agent; - Establish secure, efficient cargo systems for air, land and sea; - Deter people who seek to do harm
It is easy to set the goals, but often difficult to achieve them. I speak for my colleagues when I say that this Committee is fully committed to achieving these goals. And we have a record that demonstrates our ability to deliver a bi-partisan, broadly supported result.
The difficult work of securing all of our major modes of transportation, including our ports, railroads, intercity buses, pipelines, and motor carriers, is just beginning and the country demands a robust agency within DHS dedicated to that task.
I thank the witnesses for their participation and I look for to their testimony.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable David M. StoneAssistant SecretaryTransportation Security Administration