TSA to Mica: You Have No Jurisdiction

Photograph by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

TSA employees demonstrate an advanced image technology (AIT) millimeter wave scanner using new Automated Target Recognition software at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada.

House Republicans haven’t tired of working over one of their favorite punching bags, the Transportation Security Administration, holding more than two dozen hearings in 2011 and 2012. Agency Administrator John Pistole now is drawing the line.

Pistole not only sent word today that he won’t testify as invited at a hearing Thursday at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on how TSA is affecting the “free flow of aviation commerce,” he also said no one else from the agency will attend. The committee “has no jurisdiction over the Transportation Security Administration,” he said in a statement.

He took his stand one day after the committee’s term-limited chairman, Florida Republican John Mica, ended his long-shot campaign to retain the helm in the next Congress and threw his support to Representative Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican.

Mica’s lack of official jurisdiction over TSA under House rules didn’t stop him from spotlighting what he called its mission creep, bloated management and history of ordering costly scanning machines that didn’t work. He inserted language into the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill this year that overruled Pistole and forced TSA to let more airports turn screening over to private security companies.

If Shuster’s reaction is any indication, Pistole’s declaration hardly settles things.

“I don’t think we have direct jurisdiction but when they impede commerce, when they impede the traveling public, they need to answer to the committee,” Shuster said in an interview.

Shuster said he “absolutely” expects TSA officials to appear at transportation committee hearings. Asked what will happen if they refuse to testify, Shuster said: “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

TSA officials previously testified before three joint hearings of the Transportation and Oversight and Government Reform committees. Pistole answered Mica’s questions in public once before, when Mica sat in on a hearing of a homeland security subcommittee led by Alabama Republican Mike Rogers.

TSA “will continue to work with its committees of jurisdiction to pursue effective and efficient security solutions,” Pistole said. He pointed out the agency has provided 425 background briefings for members of Congress in addition to testifying at 38 hearings.

Chris Stromm contributed to this post

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