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Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) kicked off the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee hearing by praising the agency, saying that he has “seen a dramatic change in the responsiveness” and that lawmakers got a “very thorough and a very timely response” on a recent inquiry.

However, after the opening statements, Deputy TSA Administrator John Halinski faced a litany of complaints from lawmaker on the committee covering topics ranging from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s claims that some airport lines had doubled just days after the sequester took effect, to the agency’s decision to announce a $50 million contract for uniforms shortly before the cuts kicked in.

Things got so rocky that top committee Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who sometimes defends government agencies from Republican attacks, chided Halinski for not coming better prepared.

“You’ve got to anticipate some questions and that’s one you should have anticipated,” Cummings told Halinski after the deputy administrator could not answer a question about how much money a recent continuing resolution had restored to the agency.

Former House Transportation Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said “I see they’re now cooking the latest books and trying to mislead Congress on what they spend for administration.” Pointing out that the agency employs about 51,000 screeners and 14,000 administrative staff, he said the agency had “spun out of control.”

Halinski did not directly address Mica’s allegation in his opening statement but said that “hiring freezes and potential furloughs not only have operational impacts but adversely affect employee morale and well-being.”

But what got Mica the most worked up was the fact that screeners wear uniforms and badges like police officers. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and others have introduced a bill to bar TSA screeners from wearing police-like uniforms, but it has gone nowhere in Congress.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the full committee’s chairman, said the agency’s reputation is good only among people who never have to deal with its screeners. “The only people who really believe you’re doing all you can for efficiency and safety are people who have not flown,” he said.

Posted in: Washington News
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