WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following full committee hearing on Transportation Security Administration oversight.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Turn on the TV. Pick up the newspaper. In the past 48 hours, there’s been a steady stream of stories about airport screening procedures - on pat-downs, and full body scanners. I appreciate people’s concerns. I understand that there is frustration. I realize some of these screening procedures appear invasive.
The new pat-down procedures embody the enormously difficult task of balancing the need to protect the public and the need to maintain their privacy. One of my first questions for you, Mr. Pistole, concerns these procedures, and how you came to develop these new security regulations. I do recognize the threat we face.
I used to Chair the Senate Intelligence Committee. I am still a member. I can tell you that this threat is real, and it is evolving every day. We face a deadly and determined enemy who seeks to do us harm.
Consider the events of this last year: a terrorist boarded a plane bound for America on Christmas Day. He carried a deadly explosive onboard. Federal agents uncovered a plot to bomb multiple subway stations in Washington, D.C. The terrorist’s goal: to kill as many people as possible. Good intelligence-gathering prevented this from happening. Authorities recently disrupted a plot to blow up planes over the U.S. using bombs hidden in cargo. Again, excellent intelligence stopped this plot from moving forward.
But we cannot be complacent. Our transportation system remains a prime terrorist target. We must continue to bolster our defenses against a determined enemy. And as terrorists’ methods evolve, so must TSA’s. TSA has massive responsibilities and multiple missions. They move half a billion people through the U.S. aviation system every year; screen billions of pounds of domestic and foreign cargo; and protect our ports, and our diverse public transportation systems.
I do not doubt the difficulty of TSA’s mandate, but the agency must remain well-resourced and nimble in their response to new and emerging threats. We must take appropriate action to close any security loopholes, while making sure our global transportation system continues to move people, freight, and goods in an effective manner.
I continue to have concerns about general aviation security. Clearly, the existing system of international cargo security needs a fresh look, which I know TSA and DHS have started to do. We must also incorporate new technology that will make it harder for terrorists to exploit our transportation system. And as I’ve already stated – but think it’s important enough to say again: the balance between security and privacy is a delicate one. I believe TSA is committed to achieving this balance. I would urge all of us to consider that these procedures are in place to protect us from a real risk.
In the coming weeks, I will be working with my colleagues in Congress to make sure TSA has the resources it needs to address key security concerns.
Mr. Pistole, thank you for being here today. You have been at the helm of TSA for several months now. I know it’s been a demanding time for you and our nation. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what your agency needs to continue to protect the public.
Senator Kay Bailey HutchisonU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
STATEMENT OF SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISONRANKING MEMBERCOMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION HEARING
on oversight of the transportation security administration
November 17, 2010
Chairman Rockefeller, thank you for convening today’s oversight hearing on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Administrator Pistole we appreciate your coming before the Committee.
This is a timely hearing, given the recent cargo plot, the focus on body scanners and pat downs at airports, and the holiday travel season that is a week away. I believe the hearing will set us on a course for seriously considering TSA authorization legislation in the next Congress. I look forward to continuing our work with Chairman Rockefeller and the rest of the committee members along with you, Mr. Pistole, as your thoughts and priorities will be weighed heavily during any authorization process. Clearly, there are many serious challenges when it comes to securing our nation.
First, Cargo -- the recent cargo terrorism plot originating out of Yemen. Given the sheer volume, complexity and international component of our global cargo network, this threat will be a tremendous challenge to the fundamental responsibilities of TSA. Doing everything we can to find practical solutions that will bolster our intelligence analysis of cargo shipments farther down the cargo supply chain will be key to improving our overall cargo security.
I would encourage the Administration to be assertive at an international level with foreign nations that serve as gateways to our country, along with effectively utilizing our intelligence resources to the maximum extent possible.
Mr. Pistole, while you have been with TSA since June, the agency has been in place for nearly 10 years now. However, even after a decade of experience, TSA often seems to find itself playing catch-up, fighting the last terrorist battle, and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on unproven equipment and programs.
As I mentioned to you at your nomination hearing, there should be a goal of making the airport screening and travel process more smooth and seamless.
More and more we read or hear about frustrated or demeaned travelers. While the recently established aggressive ‘pat down’ procedures and use of whole body imaging machines are presumably being done for specific reasons, the outreach and explanation to the public has been poor. TSA should, and can, vastly improve the system for privacy concerns at the very minimum.
Additionally, while there are far too many issues to discuss, I would be remiss not to mention the issue of allowing transportation security officers to collectively bargain. While Federal law prohibits screeners from striking; and all the previous TSA Administrators have maintained that allowing screeners to collectively bargain would have a negative impact on TSA’s fundamental security mission, it is my understanding that you are still reviewing that policy and have not decided what direction you will take the agency. I encourage you to maintain the existing policy, but I would caution you, should you decide to allow for collective bargaining among the TSA workforce, a serious effort would be taken to prohibit implementation of that decision.
I would also like to point out the crucial role that TSA must play in keeping our nation’s entire transportation system secure. I have long expressed concern that not enough effort and focus is being committed beyond the aviation sector, to better secure our surface transportation modes and many ports. I look forward to hearing from Mr. Pistole on how the agency can better address these critical transportation sectors.
Again, thank you Administrator Pistole. These issues are difficult, the policies are difficult, and the job of leading TSA is difficult. As a nation, Americans understand that we still face the grim reality of terrorist threats. Ultimately, terrorists are going to continue to adapt their methods to try to circumvent our multi-layered system, we look to you to stay ahead of those threats. We need to fully utilize all the tools at our disposal and remain vigilant, nimble and alert.
Thank you, I look forward to the testimony.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable John S. PistoleAdministratorTransportation Security Administration