The House Committee on Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Subcommittee recently held a hearing to examine the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2017.
In his opening statement, committee chairman, John Katko said, “Terrorists remain committed to attacking the West, and everyday these groups are recruiting new soldiers to their cause. As 9/11 fades from the memory of many Americans, it is incumbent upon Congress to look at tragic recent events and recognize just how committed our adversaries remain at attacking us. The harsh reality is that there are formidable new threats to the safety and security of the traveling public.”
TSA’s requested budget is $7.6 billion. Broken down, it consists of the following:
- $3.0 billion to support appropriate staffing levels at checkpoints while minimizing wait times and maximizing effective screenings.
- $200 million for transportation screening technology, in particular enhanced x-ray units.
- $116.6 million to provide training for TSA frontline employees, as well as completing the construction of modular facilities to house a greater number of trainees.
- $83.5 million for TSA’s intelligence operations, and to improve information sharing.
- $10 million to replaceIT infrastructure, including network components and outdated operating systems that have become vulnerable to cybersecurity threats.
TSA’s proposed budget spurred criticism in its request—or lack thereof—of additional funds to protect surface transportation. Despite the attempted attack on the high speed train in France last summer, TSA only asked for a $12 million increase to improve the safety of the ten billion passengers that use surface transportation every year and the 800 thousand shipments of hazardous materials that occur daily.
The committee also scrutinized TSA for not cutting funding for their Behavior Detection Program, which uses behavior indicators to identify potential terrorists. According to a 2013 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, TSA expended a total of $900 million on the program since it was first deployed in 2007, despite the fact that available evidence does not support whether behavior indicators can be used it identify aviation security threats. This raises serious questions as to why TSA would want to use their resources and manpower on a program that has not yet proven effective.
In his statement to the committee, TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger defended the proposed amount, saying, “This budget provides funding to sustain and strengthen the critical mission of TSA, protecting the nation’s transportation system and ensuring the freedom of movement of people and commerce…TSA’s nearly 60,000 security professionals are dedicated to a demanding and challenging mission. They are our most important resource. They are incredibly patriotic and passionate about our counter-terrorism mission, and they will deliver excellence if properly trained, equipped, and led.”
But as the threats towards travelers not only increase, but develop in sophistication, TSA has failed to keep pace. Homeland Security Today previously reported that covert testing uncovered that TSA screeners failed 67 out of 70 tests (or 96 percent of the time) where undercover investigators posing as legitimate airline passengers for TSA managed to smuggle fake explosives and other prohibited weapons through checkpoints.
These security failures, among others, have reinforced the belief that the hoops travelers are forced to jump through nowadays to board a one hour ten minute flight from New York to DC are just another example of security theater.
Security theater consists of the countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little to nothing to actually achieve it. However, Neffenger maintains, “We have made great strides in addressing the challenges faced last summer to ensure that we do not repeat past mistakes, determining the root causes of the problems identified has been my main concern.”
Neffenger claims that the main problems regarding past TSA failures were disproportionate focuses on efficiency, environmental influences, and gaps in system designs and processes. He also expresses his confidence that immediate problems have been resolved.
TSA’s job is a difficult one. And while human empathy calls us to be sympathetic of the pressures and difficulties faced by TSA employees, our tax dollars demand accountability. As Chairman Katko put it, “TSA has to be right 100 percent of the time, the terrorists only need to be right once.”