Lawmakers praise management savvy of new transportation security chief

Congressional leaders have high hopes that Acting Undersecretary for Transportation Security James Loy-a former U.S. Coast Guard commandant well schooled in the art of dealing with legislators-will propel the beleaguered security agency to success. But some members of Congress are still smarting from stormy relations with the previous leader, John Magaw.

"This is an extraordinarily trying job," said House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., who clashed with Magaw, a former Secret Service director, several times over spending and hiring issues at the Transportation Security Administration since the agency was created.

"I have made no secret of the fact that I was very unhappy with the agency before [Loy was appointed,] but I intend to be just as hard on him," Rogers said.

One of the reasons for Magaw's difficult relations with Capitol Hill was that he appeared to keep his cards close to his vest. He had a "Secret Service mentality," said House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., who shepherded the aviation security bill that created the TSA through Congress.

But transportation policy veterans, such as Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said Loy would bring "substantial experience in managing important security-related programs."

The Coast Guard has a tradition of working with the various port communities, said House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member James Oberstar, D-Minn. Loy would be an asset to TSA if he could carry over that type of working relationship to his new partners, the country's airports and airlines, he said.

"He has the ability to manage a very large workforce," Oberstar said.

But meeting end-of-the-year deadlines for passenger and baggage screening, involving the deployment of SUV-sized screening equipment in airports, will not be easy.

"His biggest challenge will be to deal with the backlog of airport reconfiguration needs," Oberstar said.

Leading the fledgling agency may become even more complicated by the fact that it will eventually become part of the new homeland security agency and is caught in a financial battle between the administration and Congress.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta testified last week that the agency would do all it could to meet the deadlines but that it would be difficult without adequate funding and personnel, to which Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and others, put the blame back on the administration for cutting TSA's $4.4 billion emergency funding request down to $3.85 billion at the last minute.

"This White House needs to come clean with the American people and explain that the long lines at airports and the lack of screeners reflect their budget priorities, not those of Congress," Murray said.

But Oberstar said Congress is partly to blame for the agency's slow progress towards its airport security goals. "As with so many other issues, we undervalued the magnitude of the challenge," he said.