Bill targets expedited airport screenings

Bill targets expedited airport screenings
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A bipartisan group of House members has filed legislation to prevent airline passengers who have not submitted background information from receiving expedited screening at airports. 

The measure would prevent the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from offering free trials of its PreCheck trusted traveler program, which allows passengers to pass through airport security checkpoints without taking their shoes and belts off in exchange for volunteering information about themselves. 

The TSA came under fire for allowing a convicted felon to receive expedited screening in 2014 without checking the criminal history of the passenger, whose name was not revealed.  

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The sponsors of the legislation said limiting the expedited security checks to previously approved passengers would close the loophole that allowed the felon to be selected randomly for fast screening. 

“Expedited screening can be a critical aspect to our layered aviation security infrastructure but it must be employed using proven methods that do not create security gaps," Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDe Blasio vows to take Trump to court over sanctuary city proposal The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday Dems rally behind Omar as Trump escalates attacks MORE (D-Miss.) said in a statement. 

"After a recent incident and numerous reports, I do not have confidence that TSA’s use of random or case-by-case, on-site security risk assessments to identify passengers for expedited screening is keeping us secure," he continued. "That is why I introduced legislation today to limit expedited screening to certain, known low-risk groups. This bill will also ensure that specific criteria are met if expedited screening is expanded.”

Republicans who joined in sponsoring the measure agreed, saying the PreCheck program is an important security tool, but only if it is not applied too liberally. 

"This legislation seeks to ensure that the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA's) PreCheck program is conducted in a responsible manner, which does not cause unnecessary security vulnerabilities in passenger security screening," Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoCybersecurity Advisory Committee will strengthen national security through a stronger public-private partnership There's a pain bill that's actually sensitive to patients — let's pass it Dogfighting victims need the HEART Act to find their way home MORE (R-N.Y.) said in a statement.  

"As threats to our aviation sector continue to evolve, it is critical that we do not become complacent and that TSA is held accountable for ensuring the security of the traveling public," Katko continued. "The risk-based security model, including the Pre-Check program, has been an important step forward in keeping our skies safe and improving the passenger screening experience.  I continue to support risk-based security and TSA PreCheck and look forward to seeing the program's continued success going forward." 

The TSA PreCheck program, which was established in 2013, allows passengers to pay an $85 fee for five years of expedited airport screenings. Under the program, passengers normally volunteer information about themselves that is kept on file and used to later clear them when they fly.

Since the program's inception, TSA has traditionally selected passengers for free expedited screenings when regular checkpoints become backed up through a program called "managed inclusion." Passengers who are moved over to the expedited security are allowed to keep their shoes and belts on, but TSA officials said they are still checked for explosive devices.  

The agency has said it has cut back on the free trials as the PreCheck program has become more popular, but lawmakers like Thompson and Katko took the agency to task in a recent hearing about the 2014 security breach.  

"Suffice it to say, the terrorist and criminal history of the traveler involved should have resulted in TSA determining that enhanced security screening was in order, not expedited screening," Thompson said during the March 25 hearing. "Basically, we let a domestic terrorist get on a plane." 

The legislation, which is known as the Securing Expedited Screening Act (H.R. 2127), would direct the TSA "to make expedited screening available only to individuals that are vetted participants in the PreCheck program and other known or vetted passengers." 

"Under H.R. 2127, in addition to PreCheck participants, passengers enrolled in Global Entry or other Department of Homeland trusted traveler programs would get such screening as well as passengers in certain age groups, military service members, and other in populations identified by TSA as known and low risk," the lawmakers' offices said. 

"The legislation will also ensure that if TSA wants to provide expedited screening to passengers outside these groups, TSA could do so by an alternate method, so long as its validity as a secure vetting method is validated in an independent assessment submitted to Congress," the statement about the bill continued. "Importantly, the bill requires TSA to maintain the availability of expedited screening at or above the current level, even as it refines the population that is eligible for such screening." 

The legislation is cosponsored by Katko and Rep. Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceBooker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements New York Rep. Maloney endorses Gillibrand for president Hispanic Dems ask for multi-agency meeting on family separations MORE (D-N.Y.).