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House Republicans said they will keep pressuring the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to cut its workforce of 47,000 airport screeners even as they praised the agency’s response to automatic budget cuts.
“You’re here today because in fact you have more assets than you should possibly need,” Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican who leads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said at a subcommittee hearing today.
The hearing was held in part to account for how the TSA has managed the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, since airport delays predicted by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano haven’t happened, said Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the National Security and Operations panel.
Chaffetz commended the agency’s efforts to minimize effects on travelers so far.
Delays have been minimized because the agency received extra money for screeners in fiscal 2013, said John Halinski, the TSA’s deputy administrator. The agency “will use these additional funds to maintain its security screening workforce through prudent management of hiring and controlled overtime,” Halinksi said.
No furloughs of agency workers are planned and targeted hiring will continue, Halinski said. Travelers may still experience longer lines and wait times during the busiest travel periods, he said.
Issa and Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican who is a frequent agency critic, indicated they plan a series of hearings on the TSA’s hiring, equipment purchases and management of specific programs. Those include its squad of behavior-detection officers and a long-delayed biometric identification card for truck drivers and port workers.
Noting that critics refer to the TSA as “Thousands Standing Around,” Issa said the agency has a history of buying checkpoint equipment that didn’t work.
“Until people going through checkpoints see efficiency of people with blue uniforms, they’re not going to believe you today,” Issa said.
The automatic budget cuts will have “significant impacts” on equipment purchases, including screening machines, Halinski said. The agency has about $288 million less to spend than two years ago, forcing it to stretch out plans to replace machines that may be at the end of their expected service, Halinski said.
Editors: Bernard Kohn, Jon Morgan. To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at email@example.com.