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Chairman Lieberman, Senator Thompson, Members of the Committee:
Thank you for inviting me to testify on the security measures that have been put in place since the horrific terrorist attacks that took place on September 11. As we approach the holiday season, people across the country prepare to travel to be with loved ones. Many will travel by air. It is therefore especially appropriate that we take the time to assess whether aviation security is equal to the challenges we face in this new and more difficult environment.
I want to acknowledge that the importance of improving aviation security is foremost on the minds of you and your colleagues. Important aviation security legislation is currently being considered in a House/Senate conference. Enacting this legislation will play an important part in enhancing aviation security and I am hopeful that Congress will act quickly to resolve the outstanding differences and pass needed security improvements.
As has been said many times in recent weeks, one of the most cherished freedoms enjoyed by the American people is our ability to travel freely around our country. This is a freedom that must be and has been preserved. But we must recognize that additional precautions, enhanced awareness, and improved security are essential to make travel safe, and everyone has a role to play. I am here to talk about the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Aviation Administrations (FAA) role in this effort and what we are doing to improve aviation security. I would like to discuss three important topics; what we have done since the tragic events of September 11 to make our skies safer, our ongoing efforts to provide strict oversight of screening checkpoints, and how we plan to deal with the upcoming holiday travel season.
As you know, in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta, shut down the national airspace system (NAS), a feat never before undertaken. In the days and weeks that followed, FAA, working in conjunction with DOT and many other agencies and departments in the Administration, has been working tirelessly to reopen the NAS. Each time access to the NAS was expanded, it occurred only after there was agreement that the additional safeguards put in place were sufficient to meet the identified level of threat. The balance between access to the NAS and the restrictions in place is an ongoing one and subject to constant adjustments. Such adjustments are always made after careful coordination and are based upon assessments from law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
FAA has taken a number of steps to improve aviation security since September 11. Since the resumption of commercial flights, passengers have been subject to new restrictions and have to go through more steps to get through security. All commercial aircraft must undergo a thorough search and security check each day before passenger boarding can begin. Only ticketed passengers and authorized persons are allowed to proceed past airport screeners to board their flights. All airports have an increased number of uniformed and plainclothes security personnel and both law enforcement officers and National Guardsmen have been deployed to provide greater deterrence, surveillance, and response in the event of an emergency. Last week, the President announced a 25% increase in the number of each states National Guard deployment and a corresponding increase of the Guards airport security responsibilities beyond simply manning screening checkpoints. Access points to secured areas have been reduced to the operational minimum and airports have increased random security checks and ID checks throughout the entire terminal area. All airport and airline employees with access to secured areas of the airport have had IDs revalidated or reissued and will undergo Criminal History Records Checks.
We have modified our Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) to reflect information we have obtained since the terrorist attacks. Selectees are subject to more intensive and redundant searches. These redundancies have succeeded in apprehending individuals at the gates who have gotten past screening checkpoints with weapons or prohibited articles. In addition, we continue to deploy FAA purchased explosives detection equipment (EDS) as quickly as possible and mandate the continuous use of those EDS that are installed and operational. With funding that has been requested, we plan to purchase and install additional equipment as quickly as manufacturers can produce them, so that we may move steadily toward our goal of 100% screening of all checked baggage by effective and efficient explosives detection systems. If Congress provides the $293 million requested by the Administration for FY 02, we will be able to purchase the maximum production. We are also assessing new and emerging technologies can be deployed both short and long-term to further enhance security and improve overall security system effectiveness.
Another effort that has received a great deal of attention is the Federal Air Marshals (FAM) program. This program has been significantly expanded in the past two months and plans for its continued expansion are ongoing. FAA has been overwhelmed with the number of applications it has received from individuals interested in becoming a FAM. Until more FAMs can be hired and trained, other federal agencies have provided skilled personnel who have undergone an abbreviated training course in order to learn how to apply their expertise in the unique environment of an aircraft cabin. These individuals are currently flying in our system protecting our commercial aviation operations.
In addition to the many new security procedures, redundancies, and armed oversight in place, Secretary Mineta recently announced a crackdown on lapses of security detected in U.S. airports. It is disturbing that, despite the events of September 11 and our attempts to improve airline security, there continue to be failures to properly screen and detect weapons at security checkpoints. In the current environment, Secretary Mineta has determined that where FAA has identifies a failure of adequate screening at a checkpoint, we must assume that the area beyond that checkpoint has been compromised and takes corrective action. As a result, the FAA has stopped flights, closed, searched and reopened concourses at a number of major airports, and emptied aircraft to re-screen all passengers when we find that the security screeners had not followed proper procedures. Until such time as Congress reassigns the screening responsibilities, which now reside by statute with the airlines, our challenge is to maximize the effectiveness of the current system. If airlines do not respond to traditional compliance incentives, such as the threat of civil penalty action for violation, we must resort to more immediate measures in order to assure that ineffective screeners are replaced.
The Secretarys concerted efforts since September 11 have resulted in identifying high-value, high consequence transportation assets and protection strategies. Under his leadership, we are addressing the strategic gaps between the current and desired level of protection for the most critical of these assets. As he noted in a recent speech, confidence must be restored in the screening system must be restored, and the way to accomplish that goal is to know that when screeners fail to meet the requirements, it is going to sting.
Finally, as the holiday season approaches, I would like to discuss what we are doing to help the traveling public feel safer as they board planes to be with loved ones in the upcoming weeks. Last week I met with airport and airline industry leaders to discuss how the upcoming holiday traffic will be handled without compromising current security standards. The meeting went very well. I was gratified to learn that both airlines and airports are thinking in advance. They are encouraging greater public awareness and working toward the dissemination of consistent information. We are expecting travel loads to be at their highest levels since the terrorist attacks, so passengers must be prepared of what to expect in terms of how far in advance of their flights they must arrive, how long a wait they may encounter, and what types of carry-on restrictions will be in place. If passengers understand in advance what is expected of them, there will be less frustration and greater efficiency in the check-in and screening process.
FAA is finalizing a brochure that will help disseminate information and educate the flying public about the new procedures and restrictions in place in order to make this travel season safe and pleasant. It is important that passengers understand that whatever delays they may encounter as a result of these new procedures, they are intended to help them get to their destinations safely.
In closing I want to echo the Presidents call to get back to normal, but do so with an increased awareness and vigilance. Things are not as they were before September 11, but that does not mean that we cannot retain our essential freedoms even if it means longer lines or searches of carry-on items. I think I speak for all of my colleagues in the aviation industry when I say that we continue to be committed to improving aviation security. The President has said that we will prevail over the terrorist forces that threaten us, and with hard work, dedication, and commitment from the aviation industry, the traveling public, and this Administration I believe he is right.
Mr. Chairman, I will be pleased to answer your questions at this time.
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