Thune: New GAO Aviation Security Report Underscores Need for House Action on Senate’s Security Focused Aviation Bill

“Critical safety reforms, in a bill that passed the Senate 95-3, shouldn’t face substantial delays over provisions that do not have enough support to become law this year.”

May 31, 2016

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today renewed his call for the U.S. House of Representatives to take up the bipartisan Federal Aviation Reauthorization (FAA) Act of 2016 following a new report on aviation security by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that highlighted the need to address the vulnerability of airport security to an “insider threat.”

“This new GAO report further underscores the need for the House to put the security focused aviation legislation passed by the Senate on the floor for a vote,” said Thune. “Critical safety reforms, in a bill that passed the Senate 95-3, shouldn’t face substantial delays over provisions that do not have enough support to become law this year. It’s time for the House to act and avoid a short-term extension of aviation authorities that doesn’t address aviation safety and security.”

The new GAO report highlighted the fact that the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) current operational assessment does not “reflect changes in the airport security risk environment, such as TSA’s subsequent determination of risk from the insider threat — the potential of rogue aviation workers exploiting their credentials, access, and knowledge of security procedures throughout the airport for personal gain or to inflict damage.”

For over a year, the Senate has probed concerns about an insider threat to aviation security and ongoing problems with managing security access badges for airport employees. On April 19, 2016, the U.S. Senate voted 95-3 to approve a security-focused, passenger-friendly bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration and other federal air travel programs. The bill included several bipartisan provisions authored by both members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to improve the safety and efficiency of airport security. The bill’s comprehensive security improvement initiatives include:

  • Addressing the insider threat of terrorism – Reflecting concern echoed in the GAO report, the Senate-passed bill enhances requirements and vetting for airport employees with access to secure areas. It expands the use of random and physical inspections of airport employees in secure areas and requires a review of perimeter security.

  • Reducing wait times through PreCheck – Senate-passed security provisions awaiting House action include the TSA PreCheck Enhancement which would help enroll more Americans in expedited security screening to reduce waits by vetting more passengers before they arrive to get them through checkpoints quickly.

  • Using K-9s and personnel to increase safety and efficiency – The Senate bill includes provisions to enhance the security presence of K-9 units and other personnel in pre-screening airport areas and increases preparedness for active shooter incidents.

  • Securing international flights bound for the U.S. – Because some international airports abroad operating non-stop flights to U.S. airports lack the security equipment and expertise of U.S. and other state-of-the-art airports, the Senate FAA bill awaiting House action authorizes TSA to donate unneeded security equipment to foreign airports with direct flights to the U.S., permits increased cooperation between U.S. officials and partner nations, and requires a new assessment of foreign cargo security programs.  

Last week, Thune and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), sent a letter urging House of Representatives passage of the Senate-passed FAA bill or a similar companion measure as quickly as possible. Thune has previously noted that the Senate bill did not include provisions like an increase in the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) and air traffic control (ATC) reform that lacked sufficient support to become law.