Dems criticize TSA for delaying cargo inspection deadline

The 9/11 Commission that was tasked with looking at vulnerabilities following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks initially made the suggestion that all cargo loads be completely screened. The requirement has been in the federal rulemaking process since 2009, and TSA decided recently to postpone a Dec. 31 implementation date.

The air cargo industry has objected to the cost of the requirement, but Democrats on the Homeland Security committee said Tuesday the cost was not the most important consideration in airplane safety.

“Everyone understands that cargo screening is not an easy or inexpensive undertaking; however, it is logical that if we screen passengers, all carry-ons, and all checked baggage, then we must screen the remaining items onboard passenger aircraft, and that is belly cargo,” Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) said in a statement. “Ensuring security is a part of doing business in the post-9/11 world.”

In a statement, TSA said it would respond to the Democrats' letter directly. The agency said it had already improved cargo inspections.

"Air cargo is more secure than it has ever been with 100 percent of cargo on flights departing U.S. airports and 100 percent of identified high risk international inbound cargo undergoing screening," TSA spokesman Kawika Riley said in a statement that was provided to The Hill. "TSA continues to work closely with our private sector and international partners to further risk-based screening of international inbound air cargo on passenger and all-cargo aircraft."

Riley said TSA would continue the rulemaking process on the cargo inspection rule, even if it misses the December deadline.

"TSA is working with  U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the air cargo industry on a pilot program to receive and process pre-departure, international advance air cargo information about shippers in order to focus more intensive screening resources on cargo we know least about," he said. "In coordination with stakeholders TSA will continue to take steps – including ongoing efforts to test, evaluate and qualify air cargo screening technologies– to strengthen our security posture."

The Democrats' full letter to TSA can be read here.

-This post was updated with new information at 7:56 p.m.