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Faster TSA screening for service members hits snag

Jul. 12, 2012 - 08:00AM   |  
By RICK MAZE   |   Comments
Airmen at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., await the scanning of items by Transportation Security Administration employees before leaving for an exercise. Expedited airport screening for service members and their families was ordered by Congress last year, but it won't happen at every airport until the end of 2013 because of problems verifying that travelers are really military members.
Airmen at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., await the scanning of items by Transportation Security Administration employees before leaving for an exercise. Expedited airport screening for service members and their families was ordered by Congress last year, but it won’t happen at every airport until the end of 2013 because of problems verifying that travelers are really military members. (Airman 1st Class Kate Thornton / Air Force)

Expedited airport screening for service members and their families was ordered by Congress last year, but it won’t happen at every airport until the end of 2013 because of problems verifying that travelers are really military members.

Testifying Wednesday before the House Homeland Security Committee, the assistant administrator for security operations for the Transportation Security Administration said there are relaxed procedures at every airport in the U.S. “to reduce exposure to pat downs” and other invasive procedures that apply to other travelers.

These relaxed procedures include waiving the requirement for service members to remove their shoes, jackets or belts and to remove laptops from carry-on bags, said the TSA official, Chris McLaughlin.

The long-range plan is to allow expedited screening procedures for travelers with military identification, but getting to that point requires the ability to instantly verify that the person holding the ID card is a military member in good standing.

McLaughlin said the handling of spouses and accompanying dependents has yet to be fully worked out.

The plans are not what Congress expected. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., said the Risk-based Security Screening for Members of the Armed Forces Act, signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 3, made no mention of the military’s Common Access Card and required, within 180 days of enactment, expedited screening for service members traveling in uniform on orders — which has not yet happened.

“The intent of the law has not been implemented, and we took Iraq in less time,” Cravaack said. “Our service members deserve better.”

Only Ronald Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C., and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport have expedited screening for service members, where active and reserve military members are allowed to use lines reserved for people who have been pre-screened by TSA.

“You are already in violation of the law,” said Cravaack, a retired Navy Reserve captain. “This law is not optional. Just last week, I spoke to a service member who was asked to strip down to go through security, to remove boots and his service blouse.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the homeland security committee chairman, said he thinks TSA could do better. For example, he said anyone who holds a top-secret clearance should receive expedited screening, along with admirals and generals.

McLaughlin noted that TSA screeners are military-friendly, in part because veterans make up 23 percent of the agency’s workforce. “TSA employees regularly go above and beyond their required duties to honor and support the military,” he said.

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