U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta says his agency may not meet deadlines for improving airport security this year because Congress did not approve enough money for the effort.
After assuring lawmakers for months that the federal government would be meet congressional deadlines for improving airport security, Mr. Mineta offered a different assessment to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Thursday.
The Transportation Security Administration or TSA, is required by law to hire and train 30,000 federal airport security screeners by November 19, and install bomb-detection equipment at the nation's airports by December 31.
But Mr. Mineta says an emergency counter-terrorism spending bill passed by Congress this week and sent to President Bush does not contain enough money to help the agency meet those goals.
"The amount of money that Congress has approved simply will not support the mandate and the timetables for aviation security that Congress sent last fall for TSA," he said. "Less money with no flexibility means fewer TSA employees, less equipment, longer lines at airports, delays in reducing the hassle factor at airports and or diminished security at our nation's airports."
Mr. Mineta says the spending bill cuts the agency's $4.4 billion supplemental budget request for the current year by one billion dollars.
But an angry Senator Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat and chairman of the committee, noted that it was the head of President Bush's Office of Management and Budget, Mitch Daniels, who requested the cut in the TSA budget to keep down the overall cost of the spending bill and avoid a presidential veto.
Senator Hollings:"That cut was from the request was from Mitch Daniels. I suggest you talk to the OMB crowd."
Secretary Mineta:"Well, in all due respect, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Daniels doesn't vote on these numbers. It is the Congress."
Senator Fritz Hollings:"For Lord's sake, don't give us that stuff. He (Mr. Daniels) said the president would veto it unless you cut it."
Senator Hollings said if Mr. Mineta is not happy with the funding, the administration should send Congress another supplemental budget request. He vowed that lawmakers would approve it quickly.
Mr. Hollings also reiterated his opposition to arming commercial pilots. The House passed legislation earlier this month allowing pilots to carry guns if they undergo training. The Senate has yet to act on the measure.
Secretary Mineta said the administration would reconsider its opposition to the issue, but expressed concern about the costs of training and arming pilots.