Aviation chair airs frustration with DHS pilots

Frustrated with a perceived logjam in the Homeland Security Department's scattering of programs for identification technology, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation plans to introduce a bill to force DHS to move beyond pilot projects and actually implement something.

In a hearing today, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) told Stewart Verdery, assistant secretary for border and transportation security policy and planning, that the proposed legislation would very specifically outline what Congress expects.

"Go back and tell [BTS undersecretary Asa Hutchinson and DHS Secretary Tom Ridge], and anyone above and below that we're going to try to define what we want you to do to get it done as quickly as possible," said Mica, chairman of the aviation subcommittee.

A markup of the legislation is slated for the week after the Memorial Day recess.

At today's event, lawmakers asked why programs such as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System and the Registered Traveler program seemed to be languishing in the testing phases.

"It's very frustrating to keep studying and studying," said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.). "We've got to get out there and put [security programs] in place. We all know it's not going to be perfect."

Verdery defended Homeland Security officials' progress on many initiatives. "We are moving extremely aggressively," he argued. "Is it complete? Of course not. But this is not stuff that's sitting in a dusty room"

DHS faces challenges related to uniform credentials for transportation workers and methods to track security risks among travelers. Officials must protect civil liberties, choose the most secure technology for a variety of requirements, ensure that a solution can be replicated across different airports, minimize false positives in certain technologies and capture information in less than ideal situations, such as scanning the iris of a moving person.

Mica railed against a pilot program occurring in eight airports that he said is evaluating employee access technologies that have already been tested. "All this stuff has been done," Mica said. "I am wondering if it's just vendors keeping it stirred up so no one wins a prize."

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