By Keith Laing
The TSA has come under intense criticism for its decision to remove knives with blades shorter than 2.36 inches from its list of items that are prohibited on airplanes since it was announced last month.
The agency has said it intends to follow through with the decision to allow knives and large sporting equipment like hockey sticks and wiffle baseball bats despite the pushback from lawmakers and aviation industry groups like the AFGE union.
The TSA has said it will implement the change to its prohibited items list on April 25. The agency has argued that taking small knives off its list of prohibited items will allow screeners to focus on looking for potential explosive devices.
Additionally, the agency has said that making the change would bring American airport security rules more in line with international aviation rules.
Borer called the decision, which would result in knives being allowed on airplanes for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a “sudden change of policy” on Thursday.
He said the TSA screeners who will have to implement the changes should have been among the first groups that were consulted about the knife decision.
“We understand that, to be successful, TSA must stay several steps ahead of terrorists through procedures and technology that evolve in response to real-time intelligence developments,” he said.
But quickly he added: “TSOs have the hands-on operational experience to know that a policy change like this will increase risks for themselves and others, and will have other unintended consequences like longer security lines.
“Their input could have proven invaluable in the process leading up to the decision of whether to change the ban on knives,” Borer said of the TSA checkpoint workers. “It seems illogical, then, that TSOs are often the last to be informed of screening changes they are to implement, and are routinely denied any meaningful input to inform those decisions.”
Lawmakers on the Homeland Security Committee agreed that the TSA should have done a better job preparing groups that would be affected by the knife ban reversal for the change.
“TSA’s failure to work with all stakeholders and effectively message new policies has consistently led to pushback,” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), who is chairman of the panel’s Transportation Security subcommittee. “This particular snag is where TSA has repeatedly demonstrated a lackluster performance."
Hudson has been quiet as lawmakers have pushed for the TSA to reverse course on allowing knives on planes. He did not offer an opinion on the proposal in his opening remarks at the hearing on Thursday.
“Stakeholders across the board have been very vocal about the changes that TSA is making to its operations, and today’s hearing represents just one of many opportunities to examine these alterations,” Hudson said at the start of the meeting. “We all may not agree on the decisions that should be made, but I hope we can all agree that these are incredibly important discussions and debates we’ve been engaged in.”
However, lawmakers who signed a letter that was written to TSA Administrator John Pistole calling for him to reconsider the knife decision were not as willing to hear the agency’s explanations.
Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) called Thursday on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to “to reverse the [Pistole’s] decision and override this foolhardy and dangerous policy regarding knives."
“While this new policy does put us more in line with international standards, it does not take into account the fact that the U.S. poses as a more attractive target compared to the rest of the world and thus may need the additional security measures,” Hahn wrote to Napolitano. “9/11, the deadliest terrorist attack involving planes ever to take place, occurred on American soil. And while there has not been an attack on that scale since then, the success of a policy should not be used as a justification to get rid of it.”
Hahn was one of 133 House members to sign the letter to Pistole calling for the agency to abandon its plan to allow knives on planes.
Additionally, legislation has been introduced in the Senate to prohibit the change.