Lawmakers look to TSA to find post-shutdown common ground

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Lawmakers are focusing on a common enemy as they search for ways to prove they can work together after shutting down the federal government earlier this month: the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The House Homeland Security Committee is expected to approve a bipartisan bill on Tuesday to make changes to the TSA's rules for buying equipment, including its controversial X-ray scanners.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), told The Hill on Tuesday that TSA's acquisitions were low-hanging fruit that could win bipartisan support even in this deeply-divided Congress.

"I wanted to find issues where we could get Democrats," Hudson said. "It's not a sexy issue. There's not going to be a Hudson Act that people talk about for generations. But I wanted to do something I could get done in this environment."

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Since polls emerged showing House Republicans took the brunt of the blame for the public for the two-week government shutdown, leaders in the lower chamber have turned to seemingly-innocuous transportation bills to prove that Washington has not become completely dysfunctional.

The House voted last week to approve a $8 billion bill to boost ports and waterways on a 417-3 vote.

Hudson said before Tuesday's scheduled hearing that he expected a similar show of bipartisanship on the TSA acquisition legislation.

"I don't think TSA is incompetent or that they don't know what they're doing," Hudson said before referencing the agency's creation after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"I just think we threw them in a boat with holes and told them to go put out the fire," he said.

Hudson said the changes he was proposing in the Transportation Security Acquisition Reform Act (H.R. 2719) were modest enough for members of both parties to sport.

Hudson said the measure asks the TSA to "develop a five-year technology [acquisition] strategic plan, create an inventory management plan and also provide more transparency to private sector companies" that are potential contracting partners.

"I expect it to come out of committee unanimously," Hudson said. "I got buy-in from everybody."

Hudson said he was hopeful that Congress could pass the TSA acquisition legislation before the end of year, even as leaders have already thrown cold water on other bipartisan attempts involving the federal budget.

He added that he's spoken with Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D-Mo.) office about possibly introducing a version of the TSA purchasing bill in the Senate.

"She's got a background as a former comptroller. She loves this kind of stuff," Hudson said of the Missouri senator.

The House Homeland Security Committee is expected to vote on the TSA acquisition bill Tuesday morning.