Two bipartisan bills Homeland Security Today reported earlier this week would enhance airport security measures and ensure funding is spent in a cost-effective manner by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) were overwhelmingly passed by the House Tuesday.
Both pieces of legislation — the Gerardo Hernandez Airport Security Act (H.R. 720) and the TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act (H.R. 719) — were introduced by Rep. John Katko (R-NY), a former 20-year prosecutor who is the new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation Security.
“The tragic shooting at Los Angeles International Airport in November of 2013 took the life of TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez and wounded three others,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “I am pleased that my colleagues joined me in passing the Gerardo Hernandez Airport Security Act, which supports the airport community’s best practices to better prepare for and respond to active shooter scenarios. This legislation is the result of important lessons the committee gleaned from multiple hearings on the LAX shooting.”
“The House also passed the TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act, commonsense legislation to save taxpayer dollars through reforms to TSA employee management,” McCaul said, noting that, “Two years ago, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General found that TSA’s misclassification of some employees is wasting taxpayers’ dollars. This bill ensures employee workload matches position and pay within the Office of Inspection.”
I … urge the Senate to pass these important pieces of legislation,” McCaul said.
The legislation came on the heels of the subcommittee’s hearing last week on airport access control measures in response to several alarming security incidents, including the December 23, 2014 arrest of a Delta baggage handler at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for gun smuggling the FBI called a “serious security breach.”
“Threats to our nation’s transportation systems are constantly evolving, and it is critical that Congress act to preempt catastrophes at our nation’s airports by strengthening security protocols in the most cost-effective manner possible.” Katko said. “My subcommittee hearing … stemmed from security breaches in which loaded firearms were brought onto commercial airplanes by employees with airport access privileges. In light of that hearing, these bills provide a thoughtful response to create safer airports across our country by improving upon nationwide security protocols and facilitating commonsense TSA reform to save taxpayer dollars.”
At the subcommittee’s hearing, witnesses from the airport and airline industries, TSA and FBI were questioned about potential ways to bolster access control measures to deter and prevent future security breaches, including 100 percent employee screenings, increased random screenings, expanding the list of disqualifying crimes for employees and more frequent criminal history records checks.
The TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act would require DHS’s Inspector General to analyze the data and methods that the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Transportation Security uses to identify TSA law enforcement officer and criminal investigators and to provide relevant findings to the assistant secretary, including regarding whether the data and methods are adequate and valid.
The bill also would prohibit TSA from hiring any new employee to work in its Office of Inspection if the Inspector General finds that such data and methods are inadequate or invalid, until the assistant secretary makes a certification to the House Committee on Homeland Security and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that only TSA employees who meet such requirements are classified as criminal investigators and are receiving premium pay and other benefits associated with such classification. The Inspector General would also be required to submit a finding that the assistant secretary utilized adequate and valid data and methods to make such certification.
The legislation further directs the assistant secretary to reclassify criminal investigator positions in the Office of Inspection as noncriminal investigator positions or non-law enforcement positions if the individuals in those positions do not, or are not expected to, spend an average of at least 50 percent of their time performing criminal investigative duties.
In addition the bill would require the Office of Inspection to estimate the total long-term cost savings to the federal government resulting from such reclassification and provide such estimate to such committees. The bill would also require such estimates identify savings associated with the positions reclassified, including savings from: law enforcement training, early retirement benefits, law enforcement availability pay, weapons, vehicles and communications devices.
Lastly, the legislation would direct the assistant secretary to submit to the committees any materials in the possession or control of DHS associated with the Office of Inspection’s review of instances in which Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) officials obtained discounted or free firearms for personal use; information on specific actions that will be taken to prevent FAMS officials from using their official positions or exploiting FAMS’ relationships with private vendors to obtain discounted or free firearms for personal use.
The Gerardo Hernandez Airport Security Act (HR 720) would direct the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Transportation Security to conduct outreach to allUS airports at which the TSA performs or oversees the implementation and performance of security measures, and give necessary technical assistance to verify that such airports have in place individualized working plans for responding to security incidents inside the airport perimeter, including active shooters, acts of terrorism and incidents that target passenger-screening checkpoints.
It also would require the assistant secretary to report to Congress on the outreach findings, including an analysis of the level of preparedness such airports have to respond to such incidents.
The assistant secretary would also have to identify best practices that exist across airports for security incident planning, management and training, and to establish a mechanism through which to share those best practices with other airport operators nationwide.
Further, the assistant secretary would be required to certify annually to specified congressional committees that all screening personnel have participated in practical training exercises for active shooter scenarios, and to analyze for those same committees how TSA can use cost savings achieved through efficiencies to increase over the next five fiscal years the funding available for checkpoint screening law enforcement support reimbursable agreements.
Lastly, the legislation would require the assistant secretary to review the interoperable communications capabilities of law enforcement, fire and medical personnel responsible for responding to security incidents at all US airports at which TSA performs or oversees the implementation and performance of security measures.