November 28, 2012
The TSA has refused to attend a House Transportation hearing this week, with agency head John Pistole personally refusing to appear and declaring that the Congressional Committee has “no jurisdiction over the TSA”.
The hearing, schedule for Thursday, will be held by the Subcommittee on Aviation, a part of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (TIC). It is titled HOW BEST TO IMPROVE OUR NATION’S AIRPORT PASSENGER SECURITY SYSTEM THROUGH COMMON SENSE SOLUTIONS.
Headed by Rep. Thomas Petri, it will “examine the impact that the regulations and policies of the Transportation Security Administration have on aviation passenger experience and the free flow of aviation commerce,” according to a brief on the subcommittee’s website (PDF).
The TIC’s website indicates that TSA head John Pistole has been asked to testify at the hearing. However, a statement issued on the TSA’s website made it clear that neither Pistole, nor any TSA official intends to attend the hearing.
The statement reads:
By U.S. House of Representatives rules which state that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has no jurisdiction over the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), no representative from TSA will be present at the Subcommittee on Aviation hearing scheduled for Nov. 29.
TSA will continue to work with its committees of jurisdiction to pursue effective and efficient security solutions. In the 112th Congress alone, TSA witnesses have testified at 38 hearings and provided 425 briefings for Members of Congress.
TSA also continues to work to enhance security screening measures and to improve the passenger experience including through the expansion of TSA Pre?™. As part of its risk-based security initiatives, TSA has modified screening procedures for passengers 12 and under and 75 and older while pursuing a multi-layered approach to security that includes behavior detection officers, explosives-detection systems and federal air marshals, among other measures both seen and unseen.
House Republicans on the TIC have made it clear that they believe the TSA is in dire need of reform. A section on the Committee’s website describes the TSA as “a massive, inflexible, backward-looking bureaucracy of more than 65,000.”
“TSA is a top-heavy agency in need of reform,” the site also states.
The TIC is currently headed by Rep. John Mica, a consistent critic of the TSA, who has pushed for airports to ditch the agency and replace it with private security screeners. Mica, who wrote the legislation that established the TSA, recently declared the agency to be a miserable failure.
In the next Congress, Mica will make way for Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster. When asked by reporters for a reaction on the TSA’s refusal to testify at Thursday’s hearing, and the agency’s declaration that it is not beholden to the Committee, Shuster said “I don’t think we have direct jurisdiction but when they impede commerce, when they impede the traveling public, they need to answer to the committee.”
Speaking to Bloomberg News, Shuster said he “absolutely” expects TSA officials to appear at transportation committee hearings. Asked what will happen if they refuse to testify, Shuster said: “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
With public backlash against the TSA at an all time high, and given the scrutiny that the TSA has faced at the hands of the TIC and its subcommittees, it is somewhat unsurprising that agency head Pistole is no longer willing to face the music as it were.