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"Ridge says airport security agency will do better"
Wednesday, June 2, 2004
Ridge says airport security agency will do better
By LESLIE MILLER
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Four key members of Congress extracted assurances from
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Wednesday that the government would
do a better job of protecting airports from terrorists by improving
technology and reforming the way screeners are hired.
Ridge was summoned to the office of House Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, to discuss holes in aviation
security with the House leadership on aviation issues, including Rep. James
Oberstar of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on that committee.
Another of the meeting's participants, Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, said the
congressmen raised strong concerns with Ridge and other Homeland Security
"They promised improvements," said DeFazio, the ranking Democrat on the
Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the meeting resulted in a
willingness to work together to tighten aviation security.
Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, had demanded
the meeting in April after the Homeland Security Department's inspector
general testified that the Transportation Security Administration's airport
screeners performed poorly.
Separate testimony by Congress' investigative arm showed the same thing --
that weapons and other dangerous items were getting through security
"Everyone came unglued," said Mica, a Florida Republican.
Mica and DeFazio blamed outdated screening equipment for the porousness of
security checkpoints. They said the TSA needs to buy modern machines, which
are already in use on Capitol Hill and in the White House.
"In the past two years, money has been diverted from research and
development," Mica said on Wednesday. "Some things have been developed, but
Mica said he requested that a strategic plan be developed to deal with some
of the shortcomings in aviation security. In addition to the slow pace of
technological development, concerns raised at the meeting include:
-- The lack of a standard for biometric identification cards for people
who have access to airports, including law enforcement officers who carry
-- Inadequate explosive detection systems at airports.
-- The slow pace of integrating bomb screening machines with airport
baggage handling systems. Far fewer screeners are needed to inspect checked
baggage for bombs when the machines are integrated with the checked-bag
systems. Twelve airports received financial commitments from TSA to
integrate the machines, but Mica estimates 48 more need to do so.
Mica, who has called the TSA a "Soviet-style, centralized bureaucracy," said
that Ridge pledged to allow more hiring, recruiting and scheduling of
airport screeners at TSA's local or regional level, instead of from
Washington. Mica believes that pushing responsibility for staffing airport
screeners away from Washington will result in fewer airports with too many
or too few screeners.
"Reform was pledged," Mica said.
On the Net:
Transportation Security Administration: http://www.tsa.gov
Homeland Security Department: http://www.dhs.gov
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