Lawmakers Debate Security as Commercial Flights to Cuba Take Off
Earlier this year, the House Homeland Security Committee had been considering legislation banning U.S. commercial flights to Cuba until the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) assessed the country’s airport security practices.
Commercial air service between the two countries resumed for the first time in 50 years earlier this month. In a surprise move this week, the Committee adopted language that would instead require TSA to report to Congress on Cuban airport security personnel vetting and training, Cuba’s screening equipment, and the use of K-9 units at Cuban airports.
The amendment comes amid a debate between lawmakers over Cuba’s delay in allowing U.S. federal Air Marshals aboard flights bfetween the two countries. Earlier this year, a senior official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told the House Homeland Security Committee that commercial air service between the U.S. and Cuba would not resume until Cuba signed an agreement allowing U.S. Air Marshals on commercial flights.
However, it was revealed during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Wednesday that TSA never received Cuba’s signature on the agreement before resuming commercial air service and that none of the commercial flights between the two countries over the previous two weeks had U.S. Air Marshals on board. TSA Deputy Administrator Huban Gowadia told lawmakers that her DHS colleague “misspoke” when making the assurance, leading Rep. John Katko (R-NY) to accuse TSA of having “misled” the American public.
This Week’s Hearings:
- On Wednesday, September 21, the House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing titled “Stopping the Next Attack: How to Keep Our City Streets from Becoming the Battleground.”
- On Thursday, September 22, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency will hold a hearing titled “Identifying the Enemy: Radical Islamist Terror.”
- On Thursday, September 22, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Exploring a Right to Try for Terminally Ill Patients.”
- On Thursday, September 22, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Investigations will hold a hearing titled “Continued Review of Agency Regulatory Guidance, Part III.”
Executive Branch Activity
TSA Improves Security Wait Times at U.S. Airports
After warning of significant delays at airport security lines during the summer months, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson confirmed this week that TSA had in fact improved wait times to an average of under 15 minutes for 92% of fliers between Memorial Day and Labor Day, “without compromising security.”
TSA made significant efforts to increase Pre-Check signups to cut back wait times, and Congress authorized DHS to expedite hiring hundreds of new TSA officers. TSA also deployed an increased number of K-9 units and diverted resources to the country’s busiest airports. U.S. airlines and municipal governments implemented their own efforts to assist in decreasing wait times, as cities across the U.S. deployed volunteers to aid in administrative efforts and airlines like Delta, United, and American spent millions of dollars to increase screening efficiency.