GOP fumes as TSA head skips aviation security hearing

Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee sharply criticized the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for skipping a scheduled hearing on Thursday.

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TSA Administrator John Pistole was listed as an invited guest for the hearing, which was focused on the aviation security agency's impact on commerce in the United States.

But when Aviation Subcommittee Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) called Thursday's meeting to order, Pistole's seat was empty.

The long-time Wisconsin lawmaker said Pistole's absence was unacceptable.

"If we want more government stove piping, separation from one sector and another, the TSA's attitude and actions regarding this hearing achieved that end," Petri said as he noted the TSA administrator's absence.

"But if we want better government and coordination between different government activities, Congress must be able to fill its oversight responsibilities," he continued.  

TSA defended itself from GOP criticism of Pistole's absence by arguing that it does not fall under the Transportation Committee's jurisdiction. 

"By U.S. House of Representatives rules which state that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has no jurisdiction over the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), no representative from TSA will be present at the Subcommittee on Aviation hearing scheduled for Nov. 29," Pistole said in a statement that was provided to The Hill after the meeting.

"TSA will continue to work with its committees of jurisdiction to pursue effective and efficient security solutions," Pistole continued. "In the 112th Congress alone, TSA witnesses have testified at 38 hearings and provided 425 briefings for Members of Congress."

The hearing at the heart of the jurisdiction fight was the latest in a series of Transportation Committee meetings that have been critical of TSA.

The multiple hearings have been designed to hammer TSA for both its size and its airport security techniques. The agency has long argued that jurisdiction for airport security lies with the House Homeland Security Committee, however, since the TSA is a subsidiary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Officials with the Transportation Committee have balked at TSA's interpretation, and Petri promised Thursday to check with the Obama administration about the TSA's refusal to cooperate with the House Transportation Committee.

"We'll check at some point with Office of Management and Budget and others and see what the policy of this administration is so far as whether people should be testifying ... on related questions before this Congress," Petri said.

Petri said it was "not acceptable" for TSA to avoid offering input on a hearing on activities that impact the committee's jurisdiction, aviation. 

"Their absence today demonstrates why the public is so frustrated with the TSA. These officials are public servants, and their attitude should reflect this fact," he said. 

"The fact is, of course, we all work for the public," Petri added. "And I talk to my constituents. They all assume that somehow we're accountable for the security that's going on in the airport." 

In Pistole's absence Thursday, lawmakers on the Transportation Committee had to settle for testimony from Acting Homeland Security Inspector General Charles Edwards; Government Accountability Office Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues Steve Lord; International Air Transportation Association Director of Security and Travel Facilitation Ken Dunlap; Association of Flight Attendants President Veda Shook and Consumer Travel Alliance Director Charlie Leocha.

-This post was updated at 2:14 and 2:36 p.m.