June 7 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is moving too slowly to make airport screening more friendly and is losing the confidence of travelers, a House committee chairman said.
Travelers talk often about TSA’s invasive searches and a sense that the agency is overstaffed and unfriendly, Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Homeland Security Transportation Security Subcommittee, said at a hearing today.
“It’s palpable,” said Rogers, an Alabama Republican. “The American people are just really disgusted and outraged with the department, which they see as bloated and inefficient.”
The TSA has come under increasing criticism from Congress after reports of pat-downs of senior citizens and young children that spread on social media, a public frisking of Nobel Prize winner Henry Kissinger and the arrests of screeners accused of taking bribes from drug runners.
Rogers said he was flooded with complaints from travelers at town-hall meetings and at a visit to Chicago O’Hare International Airport on June 4. TSA may have 30 percent to 40 percent too many people, he said.
“TSA is too far behind the curve to see what’s coming next,” Rogers told TSA Administrator John Pistole. “You are too bogged down in managing an oversized workforce to mitigate the next potential threat.”
An underwear-bomb plot thwarted by Saudi Arabian intelligence officials last month serves as a reminder that U.S. aviation remains a terrorist target, Pistole said.
TSA is making changes, such as expanding its PreCheck program that allows certain frequent fliers to speed through security if they provide personal information in advance for a background check, Pistole said.
He said he disagreed with Rogers’s assertion that the TSA is 30 percent to 40 percent overstaffed. He declined to provide a number when Rogers asked how many people TSA could cut without compromising security.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight, but we are making changes that are addressing Congress’s concerns,” Pistole told Rogers.
The 52,000-employee agency, created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has been the subject of recent congressional hearings into its equipment purchases, hiring practices and confrontations with travelers at checkpoints.
The vast majority of the 1.8 million travelers screened each day are satisfied with the experience, Pistole said. The agency has to weigh how to make changes without compromising its mission of protecting flights from terrorist attacks, he said.
“We’ve been so criticized over the years for putting out technology before we got it right and protocols before we got them right,” Pistole said. “If it implicates security in a negative way, that’s the worst outcome.”
Pistole has done a difficult job well, Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman said in an interview with Bloomberg Government today. He’s committed to homeland security and has made improvements to the agency, Lieberman said.
“He’s continued to reexamine the way they’ve done business and tried to change it,” Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, said. “I hope people don’t beat up on him unfairly.”
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