Funding battles leave aviation security agency in limbo

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta Tuesday said Congress' ongoing spending battles may make it difficult for the Transportation Security Administration to meet looming aviation security deadlines.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta Tuesday said he is concerned by Congress' inability to pass the fiscal 2003 Transportation appropriations bill this year and is negotiating with lawmakers and the Office of Management and Budget to make sure the new Transportation Security Administration has enough funds to meet its looming aviation security deadlines.

In the absence of completing work on appropriations, Congress passed a continuing resolution last week that funds TSA at $3.6 billion. But Mineta argued the agency may only use a small portion of the funds, which may jeopardize the agency's ability to hire enough screeners and implement enough equipment to meet the Nov. 1 passenger screening deadline and the Dec. 31 baggage screening deadline Congress imposed in the aviation security law last fall.

"At that rate, we won't make it through the end of the year," Mineta told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce conference on aviation. He said TSA does not have the luxury other agencies do of having an infrastructure and a workforce already in place. "We're spending time on this when we ought to be spending time more productively," he said.

House Appropriations Chairman C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., acknowledged that talks were ongoing with the administration over the fate of TSA's budget, but said a resolution may not be included in the next CR, which must be passed by Friday when the current one expires.

"There's not a precedent for dealing with terrorism," Young said. "This is all new to us."

Last week, Young sent a memo to Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., noting the potential impacts of a long-term CR on several specific programs, including TSA. Young said under a long-term CR, TSA would likely be under an annual rate of $1.5 billion.

"At this level, it is unlikely TSA could maintain their current workforce of 32,000 screeners as well as air marshals …. Most airports would not be able to meet the deadlines for security improvements established by Congress last December."

House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., said TSA is facing a "serious situation-a dire situation," and that he supports efforts to front-load it with funds to meet the deadlines. The House Appropriations Committee passed the Transportation spending bill Oct. 1, and Senate appropriators passed their bill in July, but neither bill has come to the floor for votes.

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