TSA: Distraction led to security breach

The decision to use one screener for every two lines will be scrutinized during the agency's review of the security breach, said TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis.
"That funnels two lines of passengers through one walk-through metal detector -- which does happen on occasion to maximize their resources and promote scheduling efficiencies," Davis said.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents some airport screeners nationwide, called the staffing practice a failed TSA experiment.
"This is an experiment for a national fix because they don't have enough screeners," said Gony Frieder, a union attorney. "My understanding is they're experimenting with this in Pittsburgh, but this might even go national."
Davis said she was unaware of an experiment. She said the practice has been used at other airports.
A woman whom the TSA would not identify placed her carry-on luggage on an X-ray machine belt about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, but then sidestepped the metal detector -- called a magnetometer -- by squeezing through a 1-foot space between it and an X-ray machine.
She boarded Continental Airlines Flight 2084 to Houston, which departed at 6:20 a.m. The TSA could not find her and did not determine she had boarded the jet until 7:30 a.m. -- two hours after the incident at the Landside Terminal checkpoint.
Wednesday mornings are relatively slow travel periods at Pittsburgh International, with average checkpoint waits of about 10 minutes. At busier times, such as Monday mornings, passengers at the Findlay airport might wait 30 minutes.
The TSA screener assigned to the lines at the magnetometer was distracted temporarily when another passenger triggered an alarm -- also by trying to squeeze between the metal detector and the X-ray machine. The alarm sounded when the passenger bumped the magnetometer and was stopped by the screener, Davis said.
As the screener directed that passenger to a second screening area, the woman next in line also squeezed between the magnetometer and X-ray machine, then walked away.
The screener faces disciplinary action and could be fired. The traveler faces a possible fine of up to $6,000.
The Allegheny County Airport Authority, which runs Pittsburgh International, also wants to know what led to the breach, which nearly forced officials to shut down the airport and evacuate waiting passengers, said authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny.
The Air Travelers Association, a passenger group based in Washington, D.C., said the TSA should have stopped all flights from leaving Pittsburgh International until agents located the woman.
The flight landed in Houston at 8:09 a.m. without incident. The woman was allowed to continue to Jackson, Miss.
Jim Ritchie can be reached at [email protected] or (412) 320-7933.

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06/30/2005 EMAIL THIS


Report: 'Climate of Fear' at DHS Must End
A new report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) alleges that homeland security is threatened by management problems in the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The report, "One Face at the Border: Behind the Slogan," highlights several areas of concern and suggests remedies that include better communication with employees.
The One Face at the Border program, a personnel realignment effort at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has taken the responsibilities previously handled by inspectors with three different areas of expertise – immigration, customs and agricultural products – and rolled them into a single position called a CBP officer. Consequently, among the problems found by MPI policy analyst Deborah Waller Meyers, was an inadequate level of expertise on immigration issues at the nation's ports of entry. CBP officers who came to DHS from the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) have long voiced concerns about inadequate cross-training among the officers from the three different disciplines.
Meyers also cites a "climate of fear among employees" due to job insecurity and fears of retaliation for voicing operational concerns. The MPI researcher attributes this counterproductive climate to a number of factors, including unease in the workforce about the new DHS personnel system, which includes a "pay-for-performance" system that employees claim pits them against each other for compensation.
"Now that an institution with the prestige of the Migration Policy Institute has blown the whistle on these management issues within Customs and Border Protection, perhaps our friends on Capitol Hill will take notice," said Charles Showalter, president of the AFGE National Homeland Security Council, which represents CBP officers. "Our officers take their mission seriously, and want to do the best possible job for the American people. But that's hard to do in a climate of fear and in a culture where transparency is hard to find."
In addition, said Showalter, CBP officiers "can't even get the full range of training they need to do their jobs properly."
Among the recommendations in "One Face at the Border: Behind the Slogan," MPI says CBP should:
• Develop a new agency culture that values its employees and transparency.
• Keep its employees better informed and enhance mechanisms for employee feedback.
• Resolve the outstanding personnel-related issues relating to the merger, including union representation. Fair and consistent pay, work, training and promotion opportunities under one set of rules should ameliorate concerns about job security and facilitate an integrated workforce.
• Proactively address the climate of fear among employees, ensuring that those who speak out appropriately in the name of security are supported rather than suppressed.
• Build a culture of transparency, including evaluations that are publicly accessible for input and review.
• Exercise greater caution about public statements regarding the benefits of the One Face at the Border program so as not to create unrealistic expectations.
The entire report can be found at www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/Meyers_Report.pdf.
by Sandy Smith ()


House Passes Extra Funding For Veterans
Associated Press
Friday, July 1, 2005; A08
A unanimous House agreed late yesterday to immediately provide nearly $1 billion for veterans health care in a swift answer to President Bush's call for lawmakers to plug a politically troubling shortfall.
House members approved by 419 to 0 a measure to close a funding gap that was disclosed last week to the surprise of lawmakers. They were told that unexpected health care demands had eaten a $1 billion hole in the fiscal 2005 budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The GOP's speedy response did not soften Democratic criticism that Republicans had ignored the escalating need until it turned into an emergency. "This shortfall is the direct result of the failed budget policies and misplaced priorities of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "Republicans here have either been in denial about the plight of our veterans or it simply hasn't been a priority for them."
Republicans responded that the GOP moved within one day to give the VA every penny it requested and that veterans will see no gap in their health care benefits. Rep. James T. Walsh (R-N.Y.) said annual spending increases show the GOP's commitment to supporting veterans.
The House passed the $975 supplemental spending bill a day after the Senate voted unanimously to give the department an extra $1.5 billion to cover the health care shortfall, allowing the VA to carry unused funds into next year. Senators indicated that they want to stick to their bigger spending package.
"The Senate acted unanimously [Wednesday]," said Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho). "To do anything less than what we did . . . would be inadequate."
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said: "The House, instead of agreeing with us and putting the dollars to work where they are so needed, has decided to take a major step backwards."
The VA will not get any additional funds until the House and Senate reconcile their bills.


VA shortfall comes under fire
House moves swiftly on $1 billion request
By Mary Dalrymple
Associated Press
WASHINGTON – President Bush asked lawmakers Thursday to immediately spend nearly $1 billion to fill a politically troubling shortage in veterans health care funds. The House was moving swiftly to answer the request, and a vote was expected late Thursday.
The GOP’s quick action did not dampen Democratic complaints that the administration could have seen and stopped the problem before it became an emergency.
“This should come as no surprise to anyone,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “Time after time, Democrats have put forward proposals to increase funding for our veterans, and time after time, Republicans have voted them down.”
Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson faced testy lawmakers to deliver details about the funding shortfall.
He said the VA needs more money to cover veterans’ dependents, long-term care, energy costs and rising demand from veterans of all combat eras. The department also underestimated the number of wounded troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
House Republicans quickly assembled a supplemental spending bill to fulfill the president’s $975 million request, a day after the Senate voted unanimously to give the department an extra $1.5 billion to cover that shortfall and more.
Senators indicated they wanted to stick with their bigger spending package instead of passing the House’s smaller bill.
“The Senate acted unanimously yesterday,” said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. “To do anything less than what we did yesterday would be inadequate.”
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said, “The House, instead of agreeing with us and putting the dollars to work where they are so needed, has decided to take a major step backwards.”
The VA would not get any additional money until the House and Senate reconcile their different bills.
Nicholson told surprised lawmakers last week that faster-than-expected growth in health care demand had left the VA $1 billion short this year. He assured them the VA had the problem in hand.
By rearranging funds in its maintenance accounts and using a budgetary cushion, Nicholson said the VA could manage the problem without extra money, but that solution was rejected.
“It is clear that many members of Congress and veterans groups continue to have concerns,” Nicholson said.
“This Congress will tolerate no diminution of services or reduced quality of care for our nation’s veterans in this time of war,” said Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said: “The Department of Veterans Affairs deliberately withheld information on the costs of veteran’ health care. … The administration has consistently and repeatedly declined to provide a full accounting of anticipated costs for the Iraq war.”
Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., told Nicholson he should submit his resignation.
Republicans stepped up to his defense.
“I don’t think that they tried to deceive us or mislead us,” Walsh said.
“I think this House has sunk to a very new low, using veterans and trying to scare veterans for political gain,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. “It’s come to politicizing everything.”
The VA also said it will need more money than expected next year to meet increasing health care costs.
The administration plans to review the VA estimate and recommend a solution later.


Sen. Murray's war for U.S. veterans

Washington Sen. Patty Murray did a superlative job this week in defending the health and welfare of U.S. veterans and in holding the Bush administration accountable for all of the expenses of the war in Iraq.
The Senate approved a $1.5 billion emergency payment to the Department of Veterans Affairs for its health-care program. Another $1 billion may be needed into the next fiscal year. Murray had tried this past spring to increase the VA's budget as the administration sought more money to fight the war. VA Secretary James Nicholson had waved off the money in April, but now acknowledges his department's miscalculations.
Murray was furious with the budgetary games and let the VA know it, and warned that the true budget shortfall could top $5 billion.
In yet another example of the Bush administration's failure to adequately plan for all phases of the Iraq war, the VA was budgeting on rosy 2002 estimates. The original budget forecast 23,000 veterans from the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan needing treatment, but new estimates top 100,000.
The administration's deficit spending has been aided and abetted by a Republican Congress with no apparent ability to say no — except to veterans. House and Senate majorities were openly hostile to any more spending until the VA chief changed his tune and acknowledged the crisis.
America's men and women in uniform have performed magnificently. To imagine the U.S. would renege on a contract to provide for their physical and mental health after their duty is over is alarming. Sen. Murray held Congress and the administration accountable for that promise.


Save Otis Coalition wants big Cape turnout July 6
Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Save Otis Coalition hopes to generate a crowd of 1,000 to show support for the 102nd Fighter Interceptor Wing when the federal base realignment committee meets Wednesday, July 6 at the Convention Center in South Boston.

The coalition drafted a resolution in support of the 102nd and sent it to all Massachusetts towns. "We want a very good showing in Boston," Bourne Selectman Richard LaFarge, a coalition member, said "We have to keep Otis open."

LaFarge said the 102nd is the most expensive fighter interceptor wing in the country, primarily because it includes associated units that have no other home. Base realignment members look at expense, he said, but they also now realize that if the 102nd departs, the Coast Guard at Air Station Cape Cod does not have the budget or the expertise to operate Otis and its runways.

LaFarge said a consultant retained by the Romney administration is coordinating who will testify in behalf of the 102nd July 6. Otis will be considered probably late in the morning, he said.

The focus at this point, he said, is keeping the 102nd here, not considering what might happen to the base and its ancillary facilities should the Air National Guard unit leave. "We don't want to defuse the message," he said.

Should the departure order be upheld, he said, the unit would not leave overnight. He said the federal government has "transition packages" in place today that were not available when the Nixon Administration ordered the Air Force off Otis AFB in the early 1970s.
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