Rockefeller: Congress Needs to Fund TSA so Agency can Fulfill Critical Mission Across Transportation Systems

April 30, 2014

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.-- Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today gave an opening statement at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing titled, "Transportation Security Administration Oversight: Confronting America's Transportation Security Challenges." Below are his prepared remarks:

In the wake of the attacks on September 11, Congress worked on several fronts to protect this country and defend against future attacks. To secure our transportation systems, we created the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA was given the monumental task of protecting our aviation system, our ports, our rail lines, our pipelines, and our transportation system. Since its inception, the agency has dealt with conflicting mandates that have left it stuck between two important goals. We have asked the TSA to promote speed and efficiency while prioritizing safety and security. At the same time, the agency has had to fulfill this vast mission with limited funding and resources.  

I was Chairman of this Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee when the TSA was created.  I’ve watched it grow – but also struggle, at times – to meet its mission. However, these ups and downs are becoming less common. This is partly due to a series of legislative reforms and, importantly, the strong, steady and consistent leadership of Administrator Pistole.

Today, I believe our aviation system is safer than it has ever been. Since the TSA was created, we have seen no successful air attacks on American soil despite significant and sophisticated efforts by our enemies. We are also doing a better job at pre-empting dangerous people and goods from getting on aircraft. And, better intelligence has resulted in real policy changes. This has allowed authorities to act faster than ever to guarantee travelers’ safety. Screening at American airports has also evolved and improved. The TSA is harnessing advances in technology while adequately balancing privacy concerns. As a result, we’ve seen shorter wait times – more than 99 percent of passengers move through security in less than 20 minutes. That is a far cry from the days when security lines were several hours long.  

A lot of credit for these changes goes to the TSA’s new risk-based approach to security – an approach that is championed by Administrator Pistole. How we refine, and fund, these risk-based approaches will determine how successful we are in adapting to ever-evolving security concerns. In the next decade, for example, air travel is predicted to grow from 700 million to 1 billion people annually. We should be spending more money today to handle the sheer volume of travelers expected tomorrow. 

But there is a severe lack of urgency among many in Congress to invest in the security of our other transportation systems. Across the board, from our ports to our rails, we are failing to make sensible investments that will ultimately make traveling public safer, and save us money. As a result, we have left vulnerable the security of our ports and surface transportation systems, which are all critical components of the TSA’s mission, and vice versa. While there is substantially less public focus on these areas, these systems have been the target of terrorist plots. An attack on a major port – or in a crowded transit system – could be as devastating as an aviation incident.

Even in aviation, where we are focusing the bulk of our resources, more work must be done. I continue to be concerned about the gaps in general aviation security. Let us not forget that a private plane could wreak just as much terror as a commercial jetliner. Recent incidents have further raised important questions about the security of our airports. In November, there was a tragic shooting at Los Angeles International Airport. One TSA employee was killed and 7 others were injured. And last week, a teenager was able to clear an airport fence in California and stowaway on a flight, completely undetected, until he landed in Hawaii. If anything, these episodes underscore the need to continually reevaluate and improve our efforts.   

In the thirteen years since TSA was created, we have learned that transportation issues are not becoming easier to overcome. That’s because our world is becoming more complex, with ever-evolving and even more sophisticated threats to our security. One of the only ways we are going to meet these challenges is to provide the TSA with the resources it needs to get its job done. And to improve the overall security of our transportation systems, those resources must be allocated wisely across aviation and surface transportation programs.  

The men and women of the Transportation Security Administration have done far more than they receive credit for to improve our nation’s security. It is too often a thankless task with few good options and too few resources. I can say, with confidence, that the TSA is on the right track under the leadership of Administrator Pistole. Certainly, more work needs to be done, but I know the current leadership and workforce is up to the task. The looming question now is whether Congress is ready to give up its stubborn hold on resources the TSA needs to meet its mission.