Senate Commerce Committee leaders on Tuesday voiced opposition to a proposed increase in the passenger security fee intended to fund airport inline baggage screening systems.
During a brief hearing featuring DHS Assistant Secretary for TSA Kip Hawley and Cathleen Berrick, director of homeland security and justice for the Government Accountability Office, Chair Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) questioned why the administration would propose a fee increase after Congress has rejected similar proposals in recent years.
Hawley responded that the fee proposal included in the fiscal year 2009 request is different from previous year's proposals in that it would be for a limited duration (four years) and for the specific purpose of accelerating the deployment of optimal baggage systems at airports across the country.
Hawley noted that the proposed fee increase would raise $425 million a year or $1.8 billion over the next four years, which would provide enough resources to "complete all of the restructuring" necessary to deploy inline systems by 2012 at suitable airports. Absent the proposed fee increase, Hawley stated that airport baggage upgrades will take the next decade to complete.
Hawley said that the agency recently sent Congress its "spend plan" that highlights TSA's strategic vision for moving forward with inline systems. As AAAE's Transportation Security Policy staff reported earlier this week, TSA will contact individual airports soon, if they are among the 30 or so slated to receive federal funding.
In another area, Hawley announced plans to deploy hundreds of next generation, multi-view X-ray machines and whole body imagers in time for the upcoming busy summer travel season as part of TSA's new Checkpoint Evolution. Hawley also noted that, during the next two weeks, the agency will install more than 200 of the X-ray machines to airports, including Philadelphia, Washington Dulles and Reagan National, Los Angeles, Denver, Las Vegas and others. Millimeter wave whole body imagers will be deployed to several additional airports, including Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami, Detroit, Las Vegas, Reagan National and Denver.
Berrick pointed to airport perimeter security and employee screening as two areas that require additional attention from TSA. On perimeter security, Berrick noted that TSA had piloted technology and provided some guidance on the utilization of biometrics on airport perimeters but has yet to determine a rollout for all airports. Regarding airport employee screening, Berrick acknowledged the beginning of the seven-airport pilot program for screening, but stated that TSA had yet to say how it would "fully address" employee screening at all airports.
In addition, panel members expressed concern about air cargo screening and the ability of TSA to meet the deadline to screen all cargo placed aboard commercial air carriers. Hawley again stated that TSA would meet the deadline. Berrick agreed that TSA has a plan in place to comply with the law but urged additional action on developing plans to screen cargo entering the U.S. from foreign ports.