I suppose the day had to come, but I didn’t expect it to come so soon.
After five years of getting beaten up routinely by the Congress on a bipartisan basis, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) appears to have found a whole new set of friends in Congress. I testified April 16 before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee where TSA Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley was the star witness. While Chair Sheila Jackson-Lee, Ranking Member Dan Lungren, and a handful of other members of the subcommittee certainly had questions covering a range of areas – Secure Flight, access controls, armed pilots, etc – not once did Hawley get attacked in a harsh manner. Nor did any member leave the impression that he or she was unhappy with the general direction of TSA.
Hawley certainly gets a tremendous amount of credit for this attitude, by working closely with Congress, keeping expectations realistic, and generally being an effective head of an agency settling into its missions.
But is also true that part of the reason why TSA looks so good is that other parts of the executive branch have been under such criticism in recent years. TSA’s sister agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have been front and center in the divisive debate on immigration reform. FEMA has faced withering oversight since Katrina, and the Department of Justice has suffered from the U.S. attorneys debacle.
And perhaps most importantly, the non-security segments of the aviation system – airport delays, congestion, maintenance-driven cancellations, lost bags, etc – have suffered a near meltdown. TSA is looking good, and looking even better in comparison.