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TSA Chief Pistole Defends Cuts in Armed-Pilot Program

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Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole defended a proposal to cut funding in half for a U.S. program that trains airline pilots to carry guns, saying the money is needed for higher priorities.

The agency is proposing a reduction to $12.5 million from $25 million for the coming year, Pistole said at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing today. The agency has had trouble coordinating schedules of armed pilots, whose flights are set by the airlines, with those of U.S. air marshals managed by the TSA, he said.

“In an ideal world, one without budget constraints, we would fully fund the program,” Pistole said. “We’re not in that environment, so we are taking reductions.”

President Barack Obama included the cut in the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, which started after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, as part of the budget the White House released Feb. 14. The move has drawn criticism from the Air Line Pilots Association, a labor union with 53,000 members in the U.S. and Canada.

The program is cost-effective, relying on pilots who volunteer their time for training, the union said in a Feb. 14 statement. Given its minimal funding levels, any budget reduction may end the program, it said.

“In a plane hijacking, pilots are the last line of defense,” said Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat. “It’s extremely important they are fully trained and prepared to address that situation.”

Fee Increase

Pistole said that in total, the administration is proposing that the TSA spend $7.6 billion in 2013, a cut of $197 million, or about 2.5 percent.

The administration’s proposal to increase security fees on airline tickets to pay a larger share of TSA’s operations is “virtually certain” to be rejected by lawmakers, Representative Robert Aderholt, an Alabama Republican and chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee, told Pistole.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said any spending cuts in response to a lack of revenue would be spread over the entire department, not just TSA, Pistole said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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