Archive for Friday, October 17, 2003

Official: Airport security still vulnerable to terror

More money needed, Congress told

October 17, 2003


— The federal official in charge of airport security acknowledged there still are holes terrorists could exploit and told Congress on Thursday that more money was needed to plug them.

"We cannot provide world-class, effective security on the cheap," Transportation Security Administration chief James Loy told the House aviation subcommittee. He would not, however, say how much he thought the agency needed.

During the hearing, Loy acknowledged that explosives couldn't be identified by the airport metal detectors that travelers walk through or by the X-ray machines that examine carryon luggage. He said $60 million for developing equipment that could find bombs on air travelers had to be spent on other pressing needs.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., and the aviation subcommittee chairman, said he was disappointed the money went to salaries.

"We are not one iota closer to routinely screening passengers and carryon baggage for explosives," Mica said.

Other problems identified included inadequate training for airport screeners, a shortage of funds for equipment to test them and not enough money to pay for airports to permanently install bomb-detection machines.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and ranking member of the aviation subcommittee, said the agency had to say specifically what it needs.

"If you need more money or people or expertise, technology, investment -- you've got to tell the administration or us," DeFazio told Loy.

Loy said the agency didn't have money for equipment at all airports that tests screeners' ability to detect weapons or explosives on X-ray machines.

And, he said, only 18 or 20 airports will receive funds they requested to permanently install bomb-detection machines in their automatic bag-handling systems. Installing machines saves time and money because they don't require screeners to load luggage into the units by hand.

"It's a budget issue," Loy said.

Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said Congress had given the agency $1.9 billion to install the bomb-detection machines since Sept. 11. "That should go to a lot more than 18," said Rogers, who chairs the Homeland Security subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

Rogers called the TSA's budget -- $5.2 billion, including air marshals -- sensible.

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