Senators say airline
security is overfunded
Inouye joins the call for
added protection for sea,
highway and rail transportation
WASHINGTON » The government may be spending too much time and money seizing knives and other potentially dangerous items from airline passengers and too little on preventing terrorist attacks against other forms of transportation, lawmakers said yesterday.
Senate Commerce Committee members described the Transportation Security Administration's airport screening work force as too focused on hijackings, a vulnerability that has been reduced by other security measures put in place since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"I'm not sure screening is in tune with the future," said Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. "Do we really need to spend more money on knives and nail files?"
Stevens said chemical weapons and explosives are now bigger threats than hijackers using a plane as a weapon.
TSA chief David Stone acknowledged much has been done to prevent terrorists from taking over a plane, from enhanced screening of passengers and bulletproof cockpit doors to armed pilots and more federal air marshals.
But, Stone said, intelligence shows terrorists still are interested in using airplanes "both as a delivery system and as a target."
Stevens and the committee's senior Democrat, Hawaii's Daniel Inouye, plan to introduce a bill to refocus the priorities of the Homeland Security Department, which oversees the TSA.
President Bush proposed giving TSA $5.6 billion in 2006. Of that, $2 billion is budgeted for airline passenger screening and $1.45 billion for airline baggage screening. Security for seaports, railroads and energy facilities would get a combined $600 million.
The committee also signaled that the proposed increase in the airline passenger security tax -- to $5.50 per leg of a flight from $2.50 -- will have tough sledding in Congress.
"I'm going to shoot 'em down, and I think I'll have plenty of help," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. "I think you're wasting money all over the place."
The tax funds aviation security initiatives. Stone said the Bush administration believes airline passengers should bear the burden of those costs. The tax hike would increase their share of the government's security costs to 73 percent from 36 percent, he said.
The cash-strapped airline industry vehemently opposes the tax, arguing that it will cost aviation jobs and make it harder for airlines to recover from their financial woes.
Senators also questioned why the Homeland Security Department only seeks to apprehend potential terrorists when they show up at airports and are found to be on the no-fly list.
"Aren't we missing things by screening only airline passengers?" Stevens said. "Don't you have any plans for expanding the system of security?"
Stone said the TSA would submit a security plan for all modes of transportation on April 1. The plan was due on Dec. 31.
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‘desperately’ lacks funds
Inouye maintains that ports
should be given special attention
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said yesterday he doesn't understand the Bush administration's "lack of serious attention and commitment" to forms of transportation other than airlines.
"Security funding for all modes of transportation beyond aviation has been desperately lacking," Inouye, D-Hawaii, said in a statement at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on President Bush's budget request for the Transportation Security Administration.
Aviation security has received 90 percent of the TSA funding and "virtually all of its attention," he said.
"There is simply not enough being done to address port, rail, motor carrier, hazardous-material shipment and pipeline security," he said. "That must change quickly."
According to Senate Banking Committee estimates, the federal government has spent $9.16 per airline passenger each year on enhanced security measures, while spending less than a penny annually per person on security measures for other modes of transportation, Inouye said.
Port security is of particular interest, he said.
"My state of Hawaii is entirely dependent upon shipping and the steady flow of maritime commerce," he said. "The dock strike at the port of LA/Long Beach in 2001 caused people in my state to begin running out of basic supplies. If an attack occurs, it could be weeks before service is renewed.
"It is important to remember that 95 percent of the nation's cargo comes through the ports, so a port incident will send devastating shock waves through the entire economy, impacting every state," he said. "Yet the security initiatives at most ports have been, to this point, woefully underfunded, and most ports are ill-prepared for an attack."
The administration's TSA budget proposal also offers inadequate funding for the Coast Guard to meet both its increased homeland security responsibilities and its traditional missions like search and rescue and enforcement of coastal laws, Inouye said.
He also said the administration's proposal to increase aviation security fees make no sense.
"The airline industry is bordering on total bankruptcy, and the administration wants to add to its costs," he said. "Yet at the same time the administration is demanding that its unaffordable tax cuts be made permanent."