by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
A pair of Republican-led House panels pounded officials from the Transportation Security Administration on Wednesday over the controversial agency’s handling of equipment it has purchased in recent years.
Citing a report released Wednesday by the House Oversight and Government Reform and Transportation and Infrastructure committees, lawmakers took TSA’s chief financial officer and the Department of Homeland Security’s acting inspector general to task for allegedly storing 5,700 pieces of equipment worth $184 million in Dallas.
“Somebody needs to see the failures, both in acquiring equipment, deploying equipment, and not having equipment sitting in a warehouse when people are trying to take our lights out,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said.
Mica is a frequent critic of TSA, though he was one of the primary authors of the legislation that created the beleaguered agency in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
On Wednesday, he sharply criticized the process that led to TSA’s purchase of its controversial X-ray body scanners.
“I don’t believe the Advanced Imaging Technology was properly vetted … in fact, I know it wasn’t,” Mica said.
At another point, Mica exclaimed “I wanted to know, where are the puffers?”
Mica’s counterpart on the Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was no less charitable.
“Although a new agency, you are not so new that you shouldn’t have gotten better by now,” Issa, who has also been frequently critical of TSA, told the officials.
“These flaws are exacerbated by a management structure that seems content to throw millions of dollars at untested solutions that are bought in excess and poorly deployed and managed,” Issa said in a statement released in advance of Wednesday’s meeting. “That is not a security operation, but rather a recipe for disaster.”
The TSA and DHS officials called to testify argued in testimony submitted to the GOP-dominated panels that the airport security agency had an “active acquisition and deployment program.”
“To fulfill its security responsibilities for deploying and operating state-of-the-art security technology at over 450 airports across the nation, TSA must be able to rapidly deploy technology to respond to changing threat information, or to have equipment ready to deploy when airport facilities are changed to accommodate the equipment,” TSA CFO David Nicholson said.
“In addition, TSA must have the ability to stand up operations in locations affected by natural disasters and other crises,” he continued. “These factors and others require that the agency have a steady inventory of technology available to deploy to continue to strengthen aviation security.”
Like most recent TSA hearings, Wednesday’s joint committee meeting was attended mostly by Republicans, but even some Democratic members of the panels did not appear to accept the agency’s argument.
“It sounds like one of those ‘I blame you, you blame me and nobody gets anything done [situations],'” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who has sometimes defended TSA, said Wednesday.
Government Accountability Office Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues Stephen Lord told the panels in his prepared remarks that “TSA plans to further reduce its warehouse related expenses in the near future.”
Lord attributed the delays in removing equipment from TSA’s warehouses in Texas to the fact that the agency “must fulfill a number of requirements prior to deploying any machines in an airport setting.”
But Mica and other Republicans on the panel were not at all convinced.
“The procurement process is a disaster,” Mica said during Wednesday’s proceedings. “Somebody’s got to get control of this.”