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Who Holds Jurisdiction over the TSA?

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The Aviation Subcommittee held a hearing on Thursday, November 29. Acting Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, Charles Edwards, and Government Accountability Office Director of Homeland Security, Steve Lord, offered their findings regarding multiple TSA-related investigations and complaints. However, one glaring absence was clearly evident. The government-owned and operated Transportation Security Agency, or TSA, was not in attendance.

In a release issued earlier this week, TSA Administrator John Pistole made a statement claiming the committee held no authority over the government agency.

 “By U.S. House of Representatives rules which state that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has no jurisdiction over the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), no representative from TSA will be present at the Subcommittee on Aviation hearing scheduled for Nov. 29.”

At the start of the hearing, Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-Wisconsin) offered his remarks regarding the apparent shirking of congressional oversight.

“The TSA itself has chosen not to participate in this hearing. If we want more government stove piping, separation from one sector and another, the TSA’s attitude and actions regarding this hearing achieve that end. But if we want better government and coordination between different government activities, Congress must be able to fulfill its oversight responsibilities”

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Florida) gave his remarks on the current state of the TSA as well:

 “Having been involved in TSA since its inception and one of the individuals responsible for its original creation of course I’ve been one of its strongest critics since it sort of spun out of control… We need to be closing down TSA as we know it and instituting a safer more secure, less bureaucratic, and more effective system.”

Mica has led the effort to enable airports to opt-out of TSA screening services to be replaced with private security companies under federal supervision.

In essence, the government refused to answer questions it was asking itself. This begs the question, who holds jurisdiction over the TSA? As a child agency of the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA now resides under the jurisdiction of the Transportation Security Committee chaired by Mike Rogers (R-Alabama), a subcommittee of the Committee on Homeland Security headed by Peter King (R-New York).

This is the latest Transportation Security subcommittee hearing with TSA witness testimony:

Squabbles regarding oversight of the TSA between the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Committee on Homeland Security are nothing new. Since oversight was consolidated with King’s committee in 2010 the TSA has frequently avoided T&I requests for testimony on hearings.

When the 113th Congress convenes in January, it is unlikely that committee oversight will change hands. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) is on deck to replace Mica in 2013 as chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

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