Chicago Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta conceded Tuesday that there won't be enough passenger screeners or explosives-detection equipment at airports to meet upcoming security deadlines without causing major inconveniences and flight delays, and he blamed Congress for not providing the necessary funding.
Pointing to a cut by lawmakers on Friday of at least $1 billion in the Bush administration's $4.4 billion emergency request for the Transportation Security Administration, Mineta said at a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing that it will take several weeks to plot a new security strategy.
Officials said they are now being forced to rebalance the mix of security screeners, SUV-sized bomb-detection machines and hand-held explosives trace detection devices that will screen passengers and baggage. Officials also said the government is negotiating with security contractors to string out payments because the security agency is almost broke.
In what amounted to a major about-face advocated by airport and airline officials who had complained that the deadlines for security improvements were unrealistic, Mineta indicated he could not guarantee the security improvements will be made by the deadlines. He said passengers would likely face long lines during the busy Thanksgiving and Christmas travel periods when the new security measures are mandated to take effect.
Marking another change, Mineta said he asked the security agency's new chief, Coast Guard Adm. James Loy, to revisit the issue of arming airline pilots. Mineta remains personally opposed to having weapons in cockpits, said agency spokesman Lenny Alcivar, but "at the same time is open to the views of (Loy)."