House panel examines sequester’s impact on air travel, security

April 12, 2013
An employee of the Transportation Security Administration inspects a traveler’s documents at Reagan National Airport the day before Thanksgiving. (Michael Reynolds/EPA)

 

Did Obama administration officials exaggerate the impact of mandatory budget cuts on the traveling public? On Friday, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), chairman of the Oversight and Management Efficiency subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee, sought answers from top officials at the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS officials didn’t exactly answer the question during the two-hour-plus hearing. Instead, they told the panel they had planned for “worst case scenarios” and that as more facts came in, plans changed. At one point, it appeared that the Transportation Security Administration would have to furlough as many as 50,000 officers for up to seven days. But now the agency has shifted away from furloughs and into what TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski described to the committee as a “a managed hiring process.”

When Duncan asked whether there had been sequester-related flight delays or missed connections, Halinski said he couldn’t say at the moment, but would get back to the committee with an answer.

There have been scattered reports of sequester-related delays. International travelers appear to have been the most affected, due to cuts in overtime for Customs and Border Protection officers. The Saturday after the cuts went into effect, there were reports of hours-long waits at airports in Miami and New York. Here in D.C., officials at Washington Dulles International Airport say there have been instances since the mandatory budget cuts were implemented in which wait times have spiked for international travelers. But the problems don’t appear to be chronic.

At least for the moment, the impact on the flying public appears to be minimal.

In another sequestration-related matter. A bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders continue to push for the FAA to reexamine its decision to close 149 airport control towers run by FAA contractors. Earlier this month, FAA officials announced they were delaying the closures until June. Originally, shutdowns at air traffic control towers at mostly small- and medium-size airports were slated to begin April 7.

The letter was sent by House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.); the Transportation Committee’s ranking member, Rep. Nick J. Rahall, II (D-W. Va.); House Subcommittee on Aviation Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.); Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.); the Commerce Committee’s ranking member, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.); Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security Chairman Maria E. Cantwell (D-W. Va.); and the Aviation Operations Subcommittee’s ranking member, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

Earlier this week, three House members introduced legislation to block the closure of the towers. A Senate version of the bill is expected to be introduced sometime this month.

 

 

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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Mark Berman | April 12, 2013