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"Senate Committee Pushes TSA to Screen Air Cargo on Passenger Flights"



Thursday, January 18, 2007

Senate Committee Pushes TSA to Screen Air Cargo on Passenger Flights
By Kathryn A. Wolfe
Congressional Quarterly Today


Senators pressed the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on
Wednesday to screen all cargo carried on passenger airplanes, amid signs
that Congress may mandate stricter standards unless the administration acts
quickly.

Soon after taking the reins on Capitol Hill, Democrats announced that
implementing the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission would be a top
priority. One of those recommendations consisted of tightening security
screening of air cargo on passenger planes.

The House earlier this month passed legislation (HR 1) incorporating many
Sept. 11 commission provisions, including a requirement that all air cargo
on passenger planes be screened. But that mandate has been less
well-received in the Senate, where each member has more power. 

At a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing Wednesday on
aviation security, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., urged TSA chief Kip Hawley to
come up with technological innovations that would help secure air cargo,
such as blast-proof cargo containers.

"Congress is going to be pushing on this subject: You need to get ahead of
the curve to come up with some improvements there," Lott said. "You need to
move more aggressively."

Hawley said the TSA is moving as quickly as possible given cost and privacy
considerations inherent in some new technologies, such as "backscatter"
scanners that are both expensive and physically revealing.

Hawley appealed to lawmakers not to mandate screening of all air cargo on
passenger planes, urging instead a risk-based approach to deciding which
cargo should be screened and which should not.

"For a very small incremental benefit of security it would take away
resources that we could more productively apply elsewhere," Hawley said.

John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee, also
pressed Hawley on improving security for general aviation flights, including
possibly requiring security screening for passengers.

"At least something which measures the standards of passenger screening,
pilot identification [for general aviation] is very much a part of our
future, and if it is not then we're not taking the lessons of Sept. 11
seriously," Rockefeller said.

Currently, general aviation -- which includes private planes as well as
business and charter jets -- does not require passenger security screening.

Hawley said general aviation security is being strengthened incrementally,
in consultation with the general aviation community.

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