Transportation officials pledge to meet screening deadline

The Transportation Department will meet a Jan. 18 deadline for screening all checked bags at the nation's airports, the Bush administration's nominee to head the new Transportation Security Administration told Congress Thursday. John Magaw said at his nomination hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee that Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta now believes the agency can meet the screening deadline. Shortly after passage of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act last month, Mineta said Transportation would not be able to meet the screening mandate, which is widely considered to be one of the toughest deadlines in the new law. "Since that time [Mineta] has taken the position that there are ways by using all different means of checking bags that this deadline can be met," said Magaw. Earlier in the hearing, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had chastised Transportation officials for saying they would not be able to meet the bill's deadlines. "If DOT cannot meet the guidelines laid down in the bill as passed, they must answer why they didn't speak up at the time the legislation was being written, because they were in the room," he said. Magaw pledged to implement all the aspects of the new law and to use deadline extensions sparingly. "Mr. Chairman, you will not hear me say 'can't.' It is not in my vocabulary in this particular case, sir," he told Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V. Later in the day, a senior Transportation official said the Air Transport Association, an industry group representing airlines, believes the Jan. 18 deadline can be met. "I talked to [ATA President] Carol Hallett at ATA today and she says, 'We're going to be ready to go," said the official. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., raised concerns about Magaw not keeping the Judiciary Committee informed of changes at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms--where he was brought in as director following the Ruby Ridge incident--and for signing a document shortly after the incident saying officials' actions were "lawful and proper in every respect." Magaw apologized and said that, after further review, he had discovered problems and moved to correct them. CongressDaily's April Fulton contributed to this report.
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