TSA trounced over spending

The fledgling Transportation Security Administration took a beating on Capitol Hill this week.

TSA came before the House Appropriation Committee's Transportation Subcommittee April 17 to explain itself — and a recent request for $4.4 billion in emergency supplemental funding.

"It won't happen," said Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.). "I'm just at a loss of where we go from here."

Members roundly criticized the agency for its growing spending and hiring needs.

TSA's estimated workforce has climbed from 30,000 to 40,000 to 60,000 and could exceed 70,000, Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead testified.

The agency received $2.4 billion for fiscal 2002, and the Bush administration is asking Congress to double its budget for fiscal 2003. It will likely run out of money by the end of May, Mead said.

TSA's actions have largely been driven by deadlines of the Aviation Transportation Security Act, particularly the mandate for all checked bags to be screened by explosive-detection machines by Dec. 31, he said.

"We are asking you to appropriate very large sums to put this equipment in place, and frankly, we have not yet given you the kind of detailed information about our plans that you expect and deserve," Transportation Undersecretary John Magaw said in prepared testimony. "To be blunt, today's technology is not where it needs to be. It works, but it is cumbersome, slow and labor-intensive."

Members said Congress may have to delay the deadline to allow TSA time to find a smarter solution.

"Truly there must be some better technology," said Rep. Martin Sabo (D-Minn.).

Coincidentally, across Capitol Hill, Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) were leading a forum titled "Airport Security: Using Technology to Help Secure the Skies."

The policy briefing addressed what technologies are being used or investigated for aviation safety. The list includes bomb detectors, radio identification tags, biometric "smart cards" and face scanners.

"I think that it's extremely important for TSA as well as the entire aviation [community] that we have a marriage joined at the hip [where we're] working together, not against each other," said Tom Kinton, director of aviation for the Massachusetts Port Authority.

As one of TSA's pilot sites, Boston's Logan International Airport is testing a facial-recognition program that connects security checkpoints and federal counterterrorism databases.

"I hope we don't get on the road where government is going to study and study and study," Kinton said. "Hopefully [TSA will] look at work local airports are doing to help meet demands."

To further assist the agency, the Silicon Valley Blue Ribbon Task Force on Aviation Security and Technology, convened by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and San Jose, Calif., Mayor Ron Gonzales, began soliciting proposals April 15 from vendors to identify current and emerging technologies.

The information eventually will be forwarded to the Transportation Department.

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