WASHINGTON — After a $56 billion federal investment in airline security, flying is no safer than it was before the Sept. 11 attacks and the bare hands of passengers may be the best defense once a terrorist gets on board, two members of Congress said Wednesday.
Deriding the Transportation Security Administration as a bloated bureaucracy that recruits security personnel with ads on gas pumps and pizza boxes, the two House Republicans said it needed to undergo almost a dozen reforms.
“Americans have spent nearly $60 billion, and they are no safer today than they were before 9/11,” said Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga. “We need to make travel safe in America, and right now it’s not.”
Broun joined House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., at Reagan National Airport on Wednesday morning to present a harshly critical report on the TSA’s performance.
Broun said a terrorist bomb could be place aboard an airliner “very easily” at his home airport in Atlanta.
“TSA has not prevented any attacks,” Broun said. “It’s just been very fortunate that we’ve had no attacks.”
TSA spokesman Greg Soule denounced the report.
“At a time when our country’s aviation system is safer, stronger and more secure than it was 10 years ago, this report is an unfortunate disservice to the dedicated men and women of TSA who are on the front lines every day protecting the traveling public,” Soule said. “TSA has developed a highly trained federal work force that has safely screened over 5 billion passengers and established a multilayered security system reaching from curb to cockpit. ”
Mica and Broun, both longtime critics of the agency, challenged the need for 3,986 employees at its Washington headquarters, saying they earned an average of $103,852 a year.
“We never intended to have TSA grow into this massive bureaucracy,” Mica said.
Instead, the report said, the TSA should set standards for airport and airline security and be open to use of private contractors to carry them out. The TSA also should station more personnel abroad to intercept terrorists and to ensure that passenger screening and baggage inspections in foreign airports are up to U.S. standards.
The report cited data released this year showing that there had been 25,000 airport security breaches in the past decade. Given the leaky security network, it said, “passengers and crew offer our first and most effective line of defense.”
The report said that the TSA has wasted money on ineffective equipment and programs, has been slow to install explosive-detection devices at the nation’s largest airports and has deployed new high-tech body scanners in “a haphazard and easily thwarted manner.”
“Our concern is that explosives continue to be the focus of terrorists,” Mica said.
He said he was “not impressed” by the TSA’s planned evolution to a more risk-based approach. The agency has been criticized for applying the same security standards to all passengers, including children and the elderly.
Soule responded that the risk-based approach was “designed to maintain a high level of security, while improving the overall travel experience, whenever possible.”
“Each of these initiatives moves us away from a one-size-fits-all approach and enhances our ability to provide the most effective security, focusing on those who present the highest risk, in the most efficient way possible,” Soule said.
The TSA faced a public outcry last year after it introduced the new scanners, which critics thought were overly revealing, and procedures for vigorous pat-downs of those who refused to use the scanners.
They are no longer the most significant issue for regular travelers, according to the U.S. Travel Association. A survey released Wednesday by the travel industry group said the biggest objection voiced by frequent flyers was that other passengers delay security lines with too much carry-on baggage. They said passengers also dislike requirements that they remove their shoes, belts and jackets.