Source: Telegraph Herald

By William Garbe

Federal lawmakers from Iowa have criticized the Transportation Security Administration after recent reports revealed weaknesses in security at U.S. airports.

Last week, auditors from the Homeland Security Department's inspector general revealed they were able to sneak mock explosives, weapons and other items through TSA security checkpoints in 67 out of 70 attempts. Another report released earlier this month showed that 73 airport workers with unspecified ties to terrorism were allowed to work in secure areas.

"I do believe that there has been an issue with the lack of consistency and I think it's something that TSA has been suffering for, from across the various aspects of the organization, and its mission, for a while now," said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, during a hearing Tuesday.

"And these problems, whether it's the morale of the organization, the personnel or the day-to-day operations, they're just so systemic," she said.

Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, said the reports from the past month regarding TSA were "totally unacceptable." Blum, of Dubuque, suggested that the government needs "to get this fixed or outsource (TSA responsibilities) to the private sector."

"I fly twice a week -- once out here and once home -- so I spend a lot of hours on aircraft," Blum said by phone in Washington, D.C. "I think it's pretty obvious that TSA is a broken agency, and we and (TSA) together need to address this ASAP."

There are seven TSA officers at Dubuque Regional Airport who work part-time and full-time shifts, according to TSA spokeswoman Carrie Harmon. She said the agency works in tandem with airports in providing security.

"We have close working relationships with airports, and our officers go through a daily shift briefing," she said.

Still, security procedures and how they are implemented are often on a need-to-know basis that excludes airport management. Dubuque Regional Airport Manager Robert Grierson said it is unknown whether TSA operations at the airport have experienced security lapses.

"We're excluded in that sort of thing," Grierson said. "There are elements that are under federal control, and they handle it on a federal need-to-know basis."

However, Grierson said TSA communicates with airport management more now than in the past.

"Generally, today they give you a bit more information," he said. "If you went back a dozen years ago, you'd get a phone call that would say, 'We're going to elevated security because of a credible attack.'"

Working with TSA in Dubuque generally has been free of problems, Grierson said.

"Every time you deal with a federal agency, it's kind of a roll of the dice," he said. "We've been very fortunate working with this group."

The Coast Guard admiral picked by President Barack Obama to lead the TSA is as concerned about reports of rampant security gaps at airports as lawmakers, he said during a confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee he will fully identify those gaps and close them if he is confirmed by the Senate.

# # #