The Department of Homeland Security is moving at a glacial pace to safeguard trains, planes and automobiles from a terrorist attack and may not even have a coherent plan to work with. These accusations were made Tuesday by both Democratic and Republican senators who argued that the Transportation Security Administration, a DHS agency, spends far too much time on aviation security, but isn't even addressing the biggest terrorist threats concerning airlines.
At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill assailed TSA Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley for having no plan to audit foreign repair stations. McCaskill pointed out that five of these stations are in countries designated as terrorist safe havens.
"There is no rule requiring even background checks," McCaskill said, regarding individuals who enter and work at the station. "We might as well have terrorists working under the hood of these airplanes."
Other Senators blasted Hawley and TSA for scrutinizing passengers carry-on luggage while largely ignoring their checked luggage. Hawley admitted under questioning that there was no procedure in place to prevent explosives from being hidden in checked luggage.
"I am constantly amazed by the asymmetry of all the people getting stopped while going through with their carry-ons," complained West Virginia Democrat John Rockefeller, who leads the Senate's Intelligence Committee. "Why aren't we looking at checked luggage?"
Hawley promised there was a plan in place to check 50 percent of such cargo within 18 months and all checked bags within three years. To which Rockefeller deadpanned, "Good luck."
The Senators spent much of the hearing giving Hawley grief about the inconvenience of checking-in at airports and the ban on liquid items over four ounces. "I hope you can be as righteously indignant about the foreign repair stations as you are about mascara," McCaskill said.
The TSA has much more on its plate than airline safety. Unfortunately, its efforts to secure ports, bridges, tunnels and railroads remain mired in the developing stages as well. "This is a consistent inability of a major government administration to meet deadlines," said New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg. Lautenberg was specifically criticizing the delay in securing New York and New Jersey ports and providing the proper identification and training to transit workers.
This attack on TSA came on the day that the Government Accountability Office reported that the administration was making "moderate progress" in securing the nation's transportation system.
"You got a whole list of things to do and I don't believe you can get them done," Rockefeller told Hawley. Hawley replied that the administration has 120 different tasks and is trying to "take them all seriously."