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Lawmakers call for improved TSA security by utilizing CT scan technology for carry-on bags

Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas. Photo Credit: Homeland Security Committee/ YouTube

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Recently confirmed Transportation Security Administrator David Pekoske appeared before the House Homeland Security Committee Tuesday to discuss the agency’s efforts to keep the nation’s transportation systems safe.

The TSA is responsible for more than 60,000 employees and approximately 440 airports nationwide, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Of those employees, nearly 44,000 act as transportation security officers for aviation and surface transportation services.

Before the start of the hearing, lawmakers serving on the committee met for a closed-door confidential briefing with the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. While the details of that briefing were not discussed during the hearing, Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, did admit that specific vulnerabilities pertaining to the nation’s aviation security were mentioned. He called the information he received about that threat “disturbing.” His colleagues on both sides of the aisle agreed.

Lawmakers urged Pekoske, who has only been in office three months, to accelerate plans to implement new baggage screening technology, improve employee morale, reduce employee attrition rates, strengthen leadership and increase screening for cargo planes as well as ground transportation.

“If we are going to be successful in keeping our homeland safe, we must make sure TSA has the tools and resources it needs to carry out its mission,” McCaul said.

Ranking Member Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., called on President Donald Trump’s Administration to invest more in security innovation rather than the border wall.

"To address these threats the Trump administration must invest innovation security to strengthen TSA effectiveness,” Thompson said. “Instead the administration seems hell-bent on squandering billions on a boondoggle border wall that would do nothing to make the nation more secure.”

Thompson also suggested that the agency should travel to other airports successfully using computed tomography, also known as CT scans, for both checked and carry-on luggage. He advised that drawing inspiration from other successful programs could help expedite the implementation of this technology within the United States. Currently, The TSA scans roughly 4.9 million carry-on bags per day, but CT scans are principally used for checked baggage.

Pekoske said that the technology does exist and “hypothetically” could deploy throughout the aviation system right now but has not been implemented beyond checked bags because until recently the weight and the size of the machines could not fit in a checkpoint area.

The TSA administration explained to the committee that implementing the software would improve airport checkpoints.

“The CT capability would be a significant improvement of our detection capability at the checkpoint. Probably the most significant improvement we could make in that location, Pekoske stated.

Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass., asked if the reason TSA “hypothetically” could not deploy the CT scans was due to lack of funding.

Two test programs using this CT technology are underway in Boston and Phoenix airports.

“To invest in the CT technology requires funding above what TSA currently has,” Pekoske told the committee.

Pekoske added that while these technological advancements are important for security, his key priority is improving job satisfaction that will equate to improved security performance an efficiency.

In a July 2016 “Misconduct at the TSA threatens the security of the flying public” report assembled by the House Homeland Security Committee stated that employee morale is at a low.

“Numerous individuals came forward to the Committee alleging that senior TSA officials used the practice of directed reassignments, or mandated employee transfers around the country, as, in some cases, retaliation for employees elevating security concerns,” the report stated. “This behavior erodes employees’ confidence in an organization that has struggled with improving employee morale and wastes taxpayer dollars.”

Pekoske said one way he is hoping to improve upon morale is to grow on the job employee training programs and offer incentives, like increasing pay, for those that go through the training.

"One is investing in the leadership of our transportation security officers on the front line. I think it is important to provide them with the skills when they come into leadership positions.” the administrator said. “So, they can properly take care of the folks that are now in their charge at the checkpoint.”

Pekoske believes that investing in TSA professions will result in better security overall.

“To carry out our activates effectively we need to invest in our workforce. Especially in key areas such as training and communications,” Pekoske said. “I communicate to employees every chance I have the message that they are valued and that their work is critically important.”

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