By Keith Laing
After holding a moment of silence Tuesday in honor of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee took the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to task for the airport security techniques that have become commonplace since then.
"I know anybody that's watched TV this morning shares my sentiments that it's just a tough day when you think about all those lives and those families who are remembering their loved ones that they lost on that tragic day," the chairman of the panel's subcommittee on Transportation Security, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), said.
"Since TSA's creation after 9/11, the agency has gone down a troubling path of overspending, limiting private sector engagement, and failing to sufficiently protect passenger privacy," he quickly added.
Among the panel's suggestions are increasing the number of risk-based security programs that are used by TSA and "enlisting the private sector to modernize and automate the passenger screening process.
"Here is the bottom line: It is time to reform TSA," Rogers said. "In fact, it’s been a long time coming."
TSA officials defended the agency, saying that it was working with private companies to develop new risk-based security techniques.
"We understand that this has got to be a joint effort," TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski said. "It's not just the government, quite frankly. It's going to be the private industry."
"TSA continues to take steps to further enhance our layered approach to security through state-of-the-art technologies, better passenger identification techniques and other developments that strengthen our capabilities to keep terrorists off commercial aircraft," he added in testimony submitted to the committee before the hearing.
Halinski dashed hopes for a move to a completely risk-based airport security system, however, saying "TSA will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no individual will be guaranteed expedited or modified screening."
At one lighter point in Tuesday's hearing, Rogers asked a panel to grade TSA's performance since the 9/11 attacks.
"TSA has made progress, but the grade is clearly incomplete as you look at what the opportunities are with Pre-Check," U.S. Travel Association Chief Operating Officer Geoff Freeman responded.
Rogers responded with a quip about recent comments from President Obama about his handling of the U.S. economy in which he also said he would give himself an incomplete.
"You've been watching the convention, haven't you?" Rogers said to laughter.