After a Senate panel completes its markup of an authorization bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the House Homeland Security Committee soon plans to mark up its version of the bill, according to the chairman of the House panel Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).
“Within the next several weeks, I will introduce and the House Homeland Security Committee will mark up a DHS authorization bill,” King said in a statement on Wednesday evening after the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee began its markup of the bill earlier that day. The Senate panel hopes to complete its markup of the DHS Authorization Bill of 2011 next Wednesday although it still must discuss and vote on more than 50 amendments as of now.
King said in his statement that he has been working closely with Senators Joseph Lieberman (I/D-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, as the House and Senate panels work toward the DHS Authorization Bill, which will be the first since the department stood up in 2003.
King’s statement followed approval on Wednesday by the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security of a separate authorization bill for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The bill, which now goes to the full committee, was approved 6-3, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats against.
The TSA Authorization Act of 2011 includes an amendment requiring that all whole body imaging systems deployed, and to be deployed, at the nation’s airports be equipped with automated target recognition (ATR) software within 90 days of the bill becoming law. The ATR software, which is currently being installed on the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines supplied by L-3 Communications [LLL], either displays an “OK” message to the operator that a passenger isn’t hiding any threats or it highlights where an anomaly may be hidden beneath a person’s clothing.
OSI Systems’ [OSIS] Rapiscan Systems division, the only other vendor supplying TSA with AIT systems, still has to have its ATR software validated for operational use by the agency. Without the ATR software, a Transportation Security Officer located in a remote area from the airport checkpoint must review X-ray images of a person being scanned by the AIT system to determine if there are potential threats being hidden on the body. The X-ray images reveal bodily detail, which upsets some passengers and privacy advocates as well as many members of Congress.
The ATR amendment was offered by Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) and was agreed to by voice vote.
Some of the key provisions of the TSA bill include calling for the agency to implement a risk-based, trusted traveler program for expedited screening at airport checkpoints that extends to members of the U.S. armed forces and their family members with official orders and in uniform.
Another provision calls for TSA to work with Customs and Border Protection on a pilot program at a large airport to test the “feasibility of streamlining and eliminating duplicative aviation security screening of baggage and passengers” arriving in the United States from a foreign airport who are continuing on a domestic flight.
To boost the security of cargo being flown into the United States, the bill authorizes a voluntary advanced screening pilot program that requires certain data elements to be transmitted to DHS before the cargo is loaded onto an aircraft at the last point of departure airport. This measure is intended to help identify high-risk cargo for further examination.
Other measures in the bill include:
· Having TSA conduct a “comprehensive, agency-wide efficiency review…to identify and effectuate spending reductions and administrative savings through the streamlining and any necessary restructuring of agency divisions to make the agency more efficient;”
· Requiring the agency to collect data on radiation being emitted by whole-body imagers at airport checkpoints and have an independent third party assess radiation exposure from these machines as well as other screening equipment used at airport checkpoints;
· Ensuring that TSA has a plan to improve transportation security at airports that includes best practices for airport perimeter access control security as well as assess various “new and emerging” technologies for use at commercial and general aviation facilities;
· A demonstration project in a freight rail system to test and assess technologies for detecting improvised explosive devices (IED) on bridges and in tunnels defeat IEDs left on rail tracks.
Any TSA authorization bill passed by the House will also have to be agreed to by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.