Mineta: Congress Has 'Dramatically Undermined' TSA

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has told a Senate committee that limitations Congress placed on part of the money appropriated for the new Transportation Security Administration will prevent the agency from completing its takeover of airport security screening by the November deadline.

"The delay in approving emergency funding, the fact that the president's emergency request has been cut by one-third, and the numerous new restrictions imposed on TSA have dramatically undermined our ability to meet this goal," Mineta told the Senate Science, Commerce, and Transportation Committee last week.

Mineta said Congress has taken away the flexibility he needs to accomplish the TSA's objectives.

"Congress has not yet changed TSA's mission, yet the budget to do the job has been radically diminished while new restrictions and mandates are being imposed," he continued. "The amount of money Congress has approved simply will not support the mandates and timetables for aviations security that Congress set last fall."

Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) challenged Mineta's characterization that Congress "cut" the TSA's emergency funding.

"You asked for $4.4 [billion] and the actual figure was $4.95 [billion] that the Transportation Committee approved," he said.

Mineta disputed that amount, saying Congress cut $550 million off the top; earmarked $445 million, taking away any discretion as to how the money is spent; and placed $480 million for TSA in an overall contingency fund that Mineta can't use unless the president requests access to the full amount.

"We did not ask for the $445 million in earmarks ... it takes away from the $4.4 billion that we requested initially," Mineta insisted. "Restore the money and ... give me the tools and flexibility I need to build this young organization."

Hollings rebuffed Mineta's criticism of the restrictions Congress placed on TSA's spending.

"And we don't get along with this here 'flexibility.' You haven't justified [the need for] flexibility. We find needs at the airports. We find other needs. So this committee is not going along with flexibility," he said. "If you justify a request, we're going to give it to you."

However, President Bush said Friday that his new Homeland Security Department must have the very flexibility Hollings rejected.

"The new Secretary [of Homeland Security] must have the freedom to get the right people in the right job at the right time, and to hold them accountable," Bush said. "He needs the ability to move money and resources quickly in response to new threats, without all kinds of bureaucratic rules and obstacles.

"And when we face unprecedented threats, like we're facing, we cannot have business as usual," he said.

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