TSA debating next steps with Registered Traveler program

Thursday - 6/11/2009, 7:29am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

Lawmakers question TSA, NPPD on 2010 budget proposals. Rep. Jackson-Lee says NPPD may need to be reorganized.

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
FederalNewsRadio

The Transportation Security Administration is reviewing the Registered Traveler program and several similar initiatives with an eye toward consolidation.

TSA acting administrator Gail Rossides told House lawmakers Wednesday that the agency is focused on ensuring they have the best processes in place to authenticate and verify travelers.

The Registered Traveler program lets passengers voluntarily put themselves through a security background check in order to move through the airport screening process more quickly.

Even though Congress has been pushing for it, but DHS has been slow to roll it out. As of June 2008, TSA implemented the program at 20 airports.

"DHS Secretary [Janet] Napolitano is looking at Registered Traveler-like programs across the department to bring some alignment and deploy them in a risk management way," Rossides told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection. "As the use of biometrics and bio technologies gets better, we will have confidence in who is presenting themselves."

But that didn't satisfy Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.).

He questioned why TSA accepts state issued driver's licenses or identifications, but can't come make Registered Traveler work, which requires both biometric and biographic data on an identity card.

Rossides says the goal is to create a program that "maximizes security benefits as well as customer service benefits."

"We don't have such a program today," she adds. "The secretary is committed to looking at this as well as other Registered Traveler programs across the department."

Rossides did not offer insight into the other program Secretary Napolitano is looking at.

She did offer better news about TSA's Secure Flight program. Under Secure Flight, airlines check passenger lists against the terrorist watchlist looking for suspected or known terrorists trying to come into the country.

TSA issued the final Secure Flight requirements last October. Rossides says four or five airline carriers are in the program, and TSA's goal is for all domestic carriers to use Secure Flight no later than March 2010.

She says TSA also is working with international airline carriers to meet the program's requirements by the end of 2010.

Along with these two programs, lawmakers asked Rossides about TSA's budget request for programs such as air cargo screening, baggage and passenger detection technologies such as whole body imaging, and surface transportation.

"I am concerned about TSA's FY2010 budget request of $108 million for cargo security operations," says Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), chairwoman of the subcommittee. "This figure does not support an increase in [employees] for air cargo and reflects a 12 percent decrease from the FY2009 enacted amount, even as TSA faces significant challenges with respect to air cargo security. It is imperative that TSA have sufficient resources to face these challenges."

Jackson-Lee also says TSA's request for surface transportation is $128 million more than 2009.

"Although I have concerns about how these new resources are allocated, this request reflects a real investment in securing non-aviation modes of transportation and is consistent with the broader priorities of our authorization bill," she says.

Along with TSA, Philip Reitinger, deputy undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate, testified about his component's 2010 budget request.

Reitinger says NPPD is asking for $1.96 billion for 2010, about $801 million over 2009.

Jackson-Lee says she is concerned over NPPD's role in DHS, calling it too varied because of disparate components from the cybersecurity to risk management and analysis to border security.

She says DHS should consider reorganizing NPPD to better meet their mission.

Reitinger says there are no plans to reorganize the directorate, but he says the 2010 budget will help unify and develop NPPD's front office to improve how they work together. He adds the ultimate design on reorganization would be left up to incoming undersecretary for NPPD Rand Beers. Beers cleared the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week and is awaiting final confirmation from the full Senate.

Jackson-Lee says that may not be enough.

"I hope you convey to DHS leadership that we are interested in seeing a plan for reorganization or a reason not to reorganize," she says. "There has been lot of discussion about the permanence of NPPD because they do not have a unified focus beyond security."

Jackson-Lee also says she is concerned about NPPD's Risk Management and Analysis office.

"Staff has quarterly briefings with RMA and it seems both underfunded and headed in too many directions," she says. "As I said last spring, we need a strategic plan from RMA that puts it on a path to success. I look forward to introducing legislation that will clarify the roles and responsibilities of RMA."

NPPD also requested about $87 million more for cybersecurity in 2010 than in 2009. Reitinger promised to ensure coordination across government and especially with the Defense Department and the new White House cybersecurity coordinator.

The committee plans to hold several more budget hearings in preparation for creating a DHS authorization bill later this summer.

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On the Web:

FederalNewsRadio - Reitinger named to lead DHS cyber effort

House Homeland Security Committee - Hearing on TSA, NPPD budgets requests for 2010

TSA - Secure Flight program

TSA - Registered Traveler program

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