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Senators Grill TSA's Hawley On Security Lapses

GAO Gives Mixed Review On Agency's Effectiveness

The General Accounting Office (GAO) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday to report on progress in making air and surface transportation more secure... and it's evident more work remains, reports Helicopter Association International.

HAI notes GAO officials told Senators some progress has been made, but more needs to be done... especially in the areas of air cargo security and passenger screening.

Senators seemed skeptical about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) meeting report deadlines and a new law requiring inspection of 50 percent of all air cargo in 18 months and 100 percent in three years.

Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) called the air cargo screening situation "a major gap in our system."

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) noted a regulation on screening of workers at overseas aircraft maintenance and repair stations was due by 2004. She asked why there is no sense of urgency, saying it is a disaster waiting to happen.

"There is no rule requiring even background checks," McCaskill said, reports The Nation. "We might as well have terrorists working under the hood of these airplanes."

Kip Hawley (right), head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) told Senators a rule is being worked on, but gave no additional details.

Perhaps the most intensive grilling came from West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller... who clearly had Hawley in his crosshairs.

"I am constantly amazed by the asymmetry of all the people getting stopped while going through with their carry-ons," said Rockefeller, who leads the Senate's Intelligence Committee. "Why aren't we looking at checked luggage?"

Hawley replied there was a plan in place to check half of all checked bags within 18 months -- and all such bags by 2011. "Good luck," Rockefeller quipped. "You got a whole list of things to do and I don't believe you can get them done."

Clearly on the defensive, Hawley replied TSA has 120 different tasks before it... and tries "take them all seriously."

Rockefeller remained, as they say, unconvinced.

FMI: www.tsa.gov

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