- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

The Transportation Security Administration will face hard choices among security options to meet the deadlines demanded by Congress, making longer lines likely at airport checkpoints, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said yesterday.
Congress is assessing the progress of the new safety agency days after its first administrator was replaced amid complaints that it was becoming a bloated bureaucracy.
Congressmen blamed the Bush administration, while Mr. Mineta blamed a lack of funding from Congress.
"Less money with no flexibility means fewer TSA employees, less equipment, longer lines, delays in reducing the hassle factor and/or diminished security at our nation's airports," Mr. Mineta told the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee.
An anti-terrorism bill approved last week by House and Senate negotiators would give the TSA $1 billion less than the $4.4 billion the agency requested. It also limits the number of TSA employees to 45,000, instead of the 65,000 Mr. Mineta said were needed.
As a result, the TSA would need to spread its resources thinly among airports, forcing a choice between emphasizing passenger searches or baggage screening, he said.
"We have not determined yet," Mr. Mineta said.
When Congress created the TSA last November, it set a deadline of Nov. 19 for all baggage screening at airports to be done by federal screeners, and Dec. 31 for all checked baggage to be searched for explosives.
Mr. Mineta set a goal for passengers to pass through checkpoints in no more than 10 minutes after the federal work force is fully deployed. Yesterday, he could give no assurance of meeting that target.
"To the extent we don't have the full funds to do everything, it's going to slow down," Mr. Mineta said.
Nevertheless, he pledged to meet the federal deadlines.
Lawmakers seemed unconvinced.
"The administration is talking out of both sides of its mouth," said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., New Jersey Democrat.
Subcommittee members said poor management by former TSA head John Magaw led to unnecessary cost overruns and inefficiencies.
Mr. Mineta fired Mr. Magaw last week.
"You stuck with him too long," said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat. "I think Mr. Magaw left quite a mess when he was fired."
He blamed Mr. Magaw for failing to document why he needed more money, leaving Congress no basis for determining an appropriate budget for the agency.
Rep. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, criticized the TSA for waiting until June to award a contract to redesign airports to accommodate heavy bomb-detection equipment.
"That should have been done in January," said Mr. Oberstar, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee. "Why didn't they launch this initiative then? They'd be much further along."
The contracts, totaling about $1 billion, were awarded to Boeing Services Co. and Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp.
Lawmakers also questioned whether the TSA was doing an adequate job of screening passengers. A recent TSA test found that screeners overlooked one-fourth of fake bombs, guns and other weapons.


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