TSA Needs More Independence in Homeland Security, Mica Says

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration needs more independence from the Homeland Security Department to operate more efficiently, the chairman of the House transportation committee said.

It takes the TSA too long to make changes because too many things require approval from the department, which oversees it, Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican, said in an interview today in Bloomberg’s Washington office.

The TSA should be given “the authority to whack and hack some of the bad out,” Mica said.

TSA Administrator John Pistole told lawmakers in February he was working to make the agency into “a more agile, high-performing organization.” The ability to quickly adapt procedures based on intelligence information and threats is “paramount to effective security,” he said. The agency was created in November 2001 in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The TSA is an integral part of the Department of Homeland Security, playing a vital role in the security of the traveling public. As part of DHS, TSA has close coordination with agencies across the department, leveraging the various expertise and abilities as they work every day to keep the American public safe,” Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said in an e-mail.

The role of the TSA chief should be elevated, Mica said. The agency’s administrator should be among the first officials the president appoints, be paid more and have more control over the agency’s security operations, he said. Congress sets the administrator's salary.

“It shouldn’t be a third-tier appointment -- it should be right upfront so somebody’s always in the position,” Mica said. “You’ve got to have somebody in charge, you’ve got to have a better definition of what they do, you’ve got to be able to pay them better.”

Administrator Turnover

More than 200 TSA employees earn more than the administrator, he said. The agency has had five administrators and multiple periods without one, Mica said.

There have been 25,000 security breaches at U.S. airports since 2001, Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, said yesterday at a hearing on the TSA.

The TSA needs to devise a plan for developing its explosive-detecting baggage-screening systems, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released this week.

Mica decried proposals from two Republican lawmakers, Chaffetz and Representative Mike D. Rogers of Alabama, to add more explosive-detecting dogs in airports.

“That scares me, because if TSA gets a whiff of that, we’ll have the biggest kennel in the world,” Mica said.

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