Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says the nation’s aviation system remains “the No. 1 target” for terrorists, and he warns that his agency may have to cut spending on security at airports if Congress rejects a fee increase for some passengers.
“If the airline industry fights a fee all the time and wins and the result is we have to cut spending on airline screening, then lines are going to be longer, and customers are going to be more ticked off,” Chertoff said in an interview Friday. “And of course, the worst thing would be if something happened and a plane blew up. That would be a real shot at the heart of the airline industry. So they’ve got a real interest in making sure we have adequate funding for this….”
Without the fee, the Transportation Security Administration, which runs airport security, will need to close a $1-billion-plus hole in its budget, Chertoff said. He said that could mean cuts to the nation’s force of airport screeners. When Congress rejected the fee increase last year, the number of screeners was cut from 45,000 to 43,000.
Chertoff seems to suggest that cutting TSA’s budget would be the only option if the fee wasn’t approved. Opponents of the increased TSA fee on the House appropriations subcommittee for homeland security have suggested that some of the new border security proposals could be cut back. The Senate appropriations subcommittee for homeland security has yet to tip its hand. Its chairman Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) has been a strong supporter of increased border funding, but he was against increased TSA fees last year, so it’s unclear what position he’ll take on the budget. We should learn more at a subcommittee hearing with Sec. Chertoff on Tuesday.