Amid recent terrorist threats to airports–such as the airport bombing in Istanbul which left at least 40 people dead and many more injured—the House and Senate cleared a bipartisan bill last week to increase airport security domestically and for Americans returning home from abroad.
The FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 will extend funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through Sept. 2017. After swiftly clearing the House on the evening of July 11, the bill granting the short-term extension was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate by a vote of 89-4.
President Obama signed the bill into law July 15, the same day the FAA budget was set to expire.
The extension includes a number of provisions to reinforce and improve airport security measures, including the expansion of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) PreCheck program, which shortens security wait times by expediting searches. In addition, it will tighten the airport access controls and the vetting of airport employees.
“As we have been reminded recently, terrorists continue to target the aviation sector, including Istanbul, Brussels and the Sinai Peninsula.” said Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “Keeping Americans safe requires a holistic approach to security that is risk-based and intelligence-driven.”
McCaul said the new measures will help meet the expectations of travelers for proper security and reasonable wait times.
As Homeland Security Today previously reported, TSA has been struggling with inadequate staffing levels leading to increased wait times and missed flight connections for travelers. Several airports threatened to privatize the security screening process.
The new legislation will require a review of TSA’s employee staffing location model at airports in the United States. The bill states the model will be “based on necessary staffing levels to maintain minimal passenger wait times and maximum security effectiveness.”
At a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs meeting June 7, TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said in the past year TSA has undergone a range of transformational efforts including creating revised alarm procedures, investing in new technology and retraining employees in both effectiveness and efficiency.
“The combination of those enhanced protocols [such as limiting the number of passengers eligible for expedited screening] with increased passenger volume and decreases to TSA staffing levels in recent years has led to delays at many of our security checkpoints,” Neffenger said. “I find those delays unacceptable, primarily because the convergence of large crowds in public spaces can create a security risk.”
Rep. John Katko (R-NY) said the bipartisan legislation will also help enhance security at foreign airports with direct flights to the United States.
“It was important to get these additional provisions over the finish line. In the midst of this high threat environment facing airports and commercial aviation, I am glad to see my colleagues coming together to act on these critical pieces of legislation,” Katko said.
Katko introduced the Securing Aviation from Foreign Entry Points and Guarding Airports Through Enhanced Security Act of 2016 in March, which has been incorporated into the bill under the Aviation Security Act of 2016.
This measure supports the need for a plan to enhance security collaboration and coordination between the United States and domestic and foreign partners such as the US Customs and Border Protection and foreign government entities, respectively.
Overall, the funding will allow the FAA to continue its mission to regulate civil aviation, US commercial space transportation and airspace and air traffic while Congress continues to develop a long-term reauthorization plan.
Senator John Thune (R-SD), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said the bill is “the most significant airport security reform bill Congress has considered in a decade.”