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CongressNew Homeland Security Committee chairman to continue outgoing chairman King’s pragmatic approach

Published 30 November 2012

Rotation at the head of two House committees – Homeland Security and Transportation and Infrastructure — will bring to an end an on-going turf war over who has jurisdiction over Transportation Security Administration (TSA); the new Homeland Security chairman, Representative Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said he would end the push to dismantle the agency – a goal pursued by the outgoing T&I chairman John Mica (R-Florida); McCaul also distanced himself from calls to restrict screening of passengers at airports or limit the authority of TSA agents to conduct such screening

Rotation at the head of two House committees will bring to an end an on-going turf war over who has jurisdiction over Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and will also end the push to dismantle the agency.

Representative Mike McCaul (R-Texas) will replace Representative Peter King (R-New York) as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Representative Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) will replace Representative John Mica (R-Florida) as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

One example of the tensions between the two panels over the issue of which one of them has jurisdiction over TSA: Politico reports that a recent T&I hearing on “aviation passenger experience” was not attended by a single TSA representative. TSA refused to send agency officials to testify before the committee, saying the transportation committee has “no jurisdiction” on the matter. TSA pointedly stated the agency would “continue to work with its committees of jurisdiction.” A T&I spokesman said that list should include Chairman John Mica’s committee.

“The TSA’s position that it may disregard the transportation committee’s requests for information, including invitations to testify, seems to rest on the incorrect notion that, because the committee does not have direct legislative jurisdiction over the agency, it therefore has no obligation to provide the committee with information,” said Justin Harclerode, a spokesman for Mica.

TSA, however, persisted, receiving full support from Homeland Security’s King, who told Politico that “John Mica can say what he wants, … but we have John Mica’s jurisdiction.”

McCaul said he plans to end the turf battles between Homeland Security and T&I. “We’re not going to have turf battles in the Congress,” McCaul said. “The other thing we can do is have joint hearings. I’ve got ideas about TSA; I know Bill does. You know we’re pretty much on the same page. I think having joint hearings, the idea is smart. And I don’t anticipate that’s going to be a problem.”

In addition to ending the turf war with other congressional panels, McCaul indicated he was going to take a more pragmatic approach, rather than what some saw as an ideologically driven one, to the issue of TSA privatization. McCaul said that he is not in the same camp as those – including Mica and Representative Jason Chafetz (R-Utah) — who have pushed for dismantling TSA or the resignation of TSA administrator John Pistole.

There are sixteen U.S. airports with privatized screening operations, the largest one being San Francisco. “They [the sixteen airports] still look like TSA; they fulfill the same responsibilities. They’re not union. So I think they work more effectively, cost-effectively, as well,” McCaul told Politico. “So we’ve had 16 airports experiment with this. And I think we need to take a look at those 16 airports and see if we want to pass legislation to ease that up with other airports so they can do the same.”

McCaul also distanced himself from calls to restrict screening of passengers at airports or limit the authority of TSA agents to conduct such screening. He said that the problem with TSA was its negative image, and that work must be done to improve that image, not to change the substance of the agency’s work.

“They’ve got a public image problem, a public perception problem. They ought to be targeting terrorists and be more passenger-friendly,” McCaul said. “Are you going to take away the machines? No. But I think having a little better marketing, public relations program would go a long way.”

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