WASHINGTON (AP) – The federal official in charge of airport
security acknowledged there still are holes terrorists could
exploit and told Congress yesterday that more money is needed to
plug them.

“We cannot provide world-class, effective security on the
cheap,” Transportation Security Administration chief James Loy told
the House aviation subcommittee. He would not, however, say how
much he thought the agency needs.

During the hearing, Loy acknowledged that explosives can’t be
identified by the airport metal detectors that travelers walk
through or by the X-ray machines that examine carry-on luggage.

He said $60 million for developing equipment that could find
bombs on air travelers had to be spent on other pressing needs.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) and the aviation subcommittee chairman,
said he was disappointed the money went to salaries.

“We are not one iota closer to routinely screening passengers
and carry-on baggage for explosives,” Mica said.

Other problems identified included inadequate training for
airport screeners, a shortage of funds for equipment to test them
and not enough money to pay for airports to permanently install
bomb-detection machines.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and ranking member of the
aviation subcommittee said the agency had to say specifically what
it needs.

“If you need more money or people or expertise, technology,
investment – you’ve got to tell the administration or us,” DeFazio
told Loy.

Loy said the agency doesn’t have money for equipment at all
airports that tests screeners’ ability to detect weapons or
explosives on X-ray machines.

And, he said, only 18 or 20 airports will receive funds they
requested to permanently install bomb-detection machines in their
automatic bag-handling systems. Installing machines saves time and
money because they don’t require screeners to load luggage into the
units by hand.

“It’s a budget issue,” Loy said.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Congress had given the agency $1.9
billion to install the bomb-detection machines since Sept. 11.
“That should go to a lot more than 18,” said Rogers, who chairs the
Homeland Security subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

Rogers called the TSA’s budget – $5.2 billion, including air
marshals – sensible.

“Some people think we ought to spend every cent we can beg,
borrow or steal in the name of homeland security,” he said in an
interview.

DeFazio and others on the aviation subcommittee noted long
security lines had returned to some airports and questioned whether
the TSA has adequate staff. The agency cut 6,000 airport screener
jobs since April after Congress ordered the reductions.

Loy said the TSA has enough screeners, with 48,000 screeners now
and plans to have the equivalent of 45,000 full-time employees by
Oct. 1.

Congress and the White House are focusing on the possibility of
terrorists using portable rocket launchers – known in military
jargon as MANPADs, or Man Portable Air Defense Systems – to shoot
down planes.

Loy told the committee that the intelligence he received
indicated the rocket launchers pose little risk in the United
States.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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