Recently, the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on the issue of aircraft foreign repair station security. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Department of Transportation Inspector General (DOT IG), the unions, the airlines and the repairs stations were all present.

And while the Committee’s oversight on this issue is commendable, the hearing lacked one important item: an updated risk assessment. This omission, along with the testimony of three union representatives, suggests that security at foreign repair stations continues to be a Trojan horse for some.

Politicizing security for a non-security related objective is nothing new here in Washington. But when job protectionism cloaked as a security fix hinders the progress of mitigating real security vulnerabilities the underlying agenda needs to be unveiled and addressed seriously. TSA’s vigilance is deflated when protectionists mandate background checks and drug testing as the security silver bullet for overseas repair stations.

These actors know full well that these two measures may be impossible to implement universally, thus inhibiting airline outsourcing overseas. First, the sovereignty arguments are well stated and only a stronger effort through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) could address this issue. Second, many countries do not possess the ability to thoroughly document their citizens like we do in the United States rendering background checks ineffective. Third, the privacy laws and cultural values of many nations inhibit the authenticity  of these checks.

Let TSA perform a thorough risk assessment and audit to uncover the security vulnerabilities at these repair stations. Then allow the agency to work with its foreign counterparts, airlines and workers to implement effective security measures to mitigate those vulnerabilities directly. Alternative, but commensurate and within-the-spirit-of-the-law (PL 108-176), security mechanisms should be acceptable when background and drug checks are not effective.

Regardless of how hard these groups try to make this a security issue, the protectionist agenda remains glaringly obvious. These special interest groups need to stop playing dress up. For too long security efforts have languished, in part, because the issue is seen as merely a masquerade.

Jeff Sural serves as counsel in the Legislative & Public Policy Group at Alston & Bird, LLP. He will focus his practice on homeland security and transportation matters on Capitol Hill and in federal government agencies. Read More