TSA told not to count on increased passenger fees

Chair of appropriations subcommittee accuses agency’s director of submitting an unrealistic budget plan.

House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said Thursday the Transportation Security Administration should not depend on obtaining an estimated $1.4 billion in passenger fees to balance the agency's budget.

TSA Director Kip Hawley told the subcommittee that he was working with authorizing committees to approve increases in the Aviation Security Fee that the agency failed to get last year. The agency is seeking to double the current passenger fee to $5 for a one-way nonstop ticket.

Rogers insisted that Hawley decide where he planned to make provisional cuts in the agency's operating budget. Rogers also accused Hawley of "dumping" an unrealistic budget plan "into the lap of this committee" and threatened to slash the agency's budget.

The panel criticized the TSA for being late with reports to the committee, the agency's failure to update the panel on a $30 million project to develop technical enhancements to improve security for freight and passenger airlines, as well as its slow progress in perfecting a new passenger checking program.

"TSA is still unbalanced," Rogers said. "It continues to focus almost exclusively on one mode of transportation -- aviation -- while worldwide the most common transportation attacks target rail and transit systems."

He added, "TSA is still inefficient. It continues to be wholly dependent on airport screeners and dated technologies."

Homeland Security Appropriations ranking member Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., criticized TSA for failing to implement its new Secure Flight program, which would match passengers to government lists of terrorist prospects.

"There still are significant problems in integrating watch lists with passenger names and there is still no timetable" for getting it working, the lawmaker said.

Hawley explained he halted the program because of privacy concerns. He argued that the current system for checking passengers against no-fly lists "works well" and he wants to make sure the improved system is up to snuff before putting it in place.

"From a security prospective, I'm satisfied" with the current system, Hawley said.