(CNSNews.com) – Hundreds of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees have been diverted to the southern border, because “there’s a crisis” on the border, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said Tuesday during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing on TSA vulnerabilities.
The hearing was being held, according to Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), “to examine why urgent warnings from independent auditors about security vulnerabilities at the Transportation Security Administration have been languishing for years without being resolved.”
Cummings led a bipartisan group of members in asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine TSA’s covert testing program. In a declassified report of its work submitted to Congress in April, GAO “confirmed many of our worst fears,” the chairman said.
“According to GAO, nine security vulnerabilities were identified through covert tests since 2015,” Cummings said. However, “none had been formally resolved,” as of September 2018. “Not one over the past four years,” he said.
GAO found that TSA was “‘not using a risk-informed approach’ to its covert tests,” Cummings said. “As a result, GAO warned that TSA has only limited assurance that it is ‘targeting the most likely threats.’
“Unfortunately, this is part of a larger trend. In addition to failing to implement GAO’s recommendation, TSA has also failed to address warnings from the inspector general. As of this month, 37 recommendations made by the inspector general from 12 reports on aviation security remain open and unfulfilled. Several of those are also many years old,” he said.
Airline passenger volume at airport checkpoints nationwide has grown so much that the Trump administration is asking for 700 more screeners at TSA as well as funding to hire the screeners, Cummings noted. At the same time, “the administration is diverting TSA employees away from their primary responsibilities and sending them to the southern border.”
“We saw several press reports about this a few weeks ago, so the committee sent a letter to TSA to request the exact numbers and locations of the TSA officials who are being diverted. On Friday, TSA sent a response to the committee with new information showing the extent of these diversions,” Cummings said.
“According to TSA, they have already diverted nearly 200 employees from airports and headquarters to the southern border, including Transportation Security officers, supervisors and inspectors, as well as an additional 172 federal air marshals. The employees are drawn from more than 50 airports across the country ranging from small regional airports to the largest, busiest airports in the nation, but this is apparently just the beginning,” the chairman said.
“According to the letter on Friday, TSA has already approved an additional 284 employees to divert to the southern border. Let me put this quite starkly. On the one hand, TSA has dozens of security vulnerabilities that have languished for years, but the Trump administration is asking Congress for 700 more TSA screeners to handle huge increases in air travel. Yet, on the other hand, the Trump administration is taking more than 350 of these critical TSA employees, diverting them away from their primary responsibilities – that is securing our nation’s airways – and sending them to the southern border, and more may be sent,” he said.
Cummings said the administration’s decision to divert TSA workers to the southern border is “not helping aviation security.”
“They’re harming it. In fact, in a letter to the committee on Friday, TSA admitted that there is and I quote, ‘a potential increased risk to in-flight security,’” he said.
“At this point, it seems clear that Congress needs to step in to ensure that TSA finally addresses these security vulnerabilities and to prevent any additional airport workers from being diverted from their primary roles,” the chairman said.
Cummings announced that he is introducing “the Covert Testing and Risk Mitigation Improvement Act, which would establish standards for covert testing and require TSA to track and record its progress in resolving vulnerabilities as part of its annual budget submission to Congress.”
Jordan used his opening statement to explain why the Trump administration has diverted nearly 200 TSA employees to the border when the agency has still not implemented all of the security recommendations made by the GAO.
“The chairman asked why the administration’s sending TSA personnel to the border. Why are they sending TSA personnel to the border? ‘Cause there’s a crisis. Just a few months ago, they had - in one drug seizure – enough fentanyl to kill 57 million Americans. Last month alone, the month of May, 144,000 apprehensions on the border, and he’s asking why we’re sending people down – because it’s a crisis,” Jordan said.
He pointed to the Democrats’ response to the border crisis.
“What’s the Democrats’ response? The speaker of the House said, ‘Walls are immoral.’ Congressman Blumenauer said abolish ICE, and there’s been a supplemental waiting for six weeks to address the crisis. That’s the problem, and he criticized the administration for trying to do anything and everything he can do to deal with this crisis on the border. Give me a break!” Jordan said.
“Mr. Chairman, TSA has an important mission to keep Americans safe, and airports in the air. We rely on TSA always to be one step ahead of those who want to do us harm. However, we’ve learned as you said earlier in your statement from GAO and the inspector general, that TSA can improve how it evaluates its own security vulnerabilities,” Jordan said, adding that he looked forward to hearing from the TSA administrator on how the agency can use the work of the GAO and inspector general to better secure the country.
However, the congressman noted that aviation security is just one part of securing the homeland.
“Another key part’s where I started – border security. I want to extend my appreciation to the men and women of TSA and all the DHS components who have volunteered to go to the border and help address the crisis. There’s no other word for it – the crisis,” Jordan said.