Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NO, Ms. Napolitano - The System Did Not Work

If you are one of the millions of travelers who spent a portion of your holiday trip battling the angry airport crowds or desperately trying to re-route yourself due to severe northeast storms, chances are your focus was simply getting from point A to point B. The good news? Well, really there is no good news right now about all that. The bad news? Your airport/airline experience is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to air travel issues.

Here are two names with which you may or may not be familiar. Jim DeMint and Gale Rossides. These are two mighty antagonists in this story. Jim DeMint is the Republican U.S. senator from North Carolina. Gail Rossides is the acting administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. Both are polarizing and controversial figures in this story.

Let’s start with DeMint: Jim DeMint (right) has been a senator since 2005. Before that he served seven year as the Congressional representative from is state’s fourth district, considered by some to be one of the most conservative in the state. In fact, DeMint is often referred to as the most conservative of all U.S. senators. For the record, DeMint supports a no-exception full ban on abortions. He has suggested that all illegal immigrants should be summarily dismissed from the U.S., shipped back to their countries of origin and required to apply for entry into the U.S. Significantly, he was only one of two U.S. senators to vote against the confirmation of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State (the other was our own Louisiana Senator David Vitter). There is nothing remotely moderate about Jim DeMint. And oh…by the way, he is now the ranking member of the U.S. Senate subcommittee on aviation operations, safety and security.

It is that last distinction that matters here. In 2008, President Obama revealed his intention to unionize Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees. The TSA falls under Homeland Security as the agency responsible for security in all modes of travel. Right now, the TSA does not have a Chief Administrator. The Obama administration has nominated counter-terrorism guru Errol Southers for the post. That brings us back to DeMint. The Senator is credited with delaying Southers’ confirmation, due to DeMint’s opposition to allowing collective bargaining for TSA employees.

That, of course, brings us to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab,(left) now and forever to be known as the Christmas Day “underwear bomber.” Abdulmutallab may be one of many such bombers, as the buzz now is that a number of other would-be terrorists are set to destroy U.S. bound flights. Not surprisingly, Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the near-tragedy on the Northwest Airlines Detroit-bound flight 253. What is somewhat more surprising is that reports indicate that Yemen, a poverty-stricken middle-eastern country, may be ground zero for the training of other commercial airline suicide bombers.

The TSA, the agency designed to protect you and me from the Abdulmutallabs of the world, has an acting administrator, Gale Rossides. (right) One could say Rossides does not have the sense of urgency required for the job. In November a government report was released that indicates that air cargo that is to be loaded on passenger planes is not being properly safeguarded in the warehouses where it is stored prior to flight. According to the report, investigators were able to easily infiltrates supposedly secure storage warehouses, and it gets worse: Reportedly, some cargo handlers have not even completed required background checks. In a classic case of understatement, Rossides responded to the report by saying simply that it raises “legitimate concerns.”

Rossides is a bureaucrat. What we need at TSA is an aggressive anti-terrorist problem solver who will put boots on the ground, tighten up screening processes for both passengers and employees, and take all necessary steps stop people like Abdulmutallab from boarding airliners. Evidently, we do not have that leadership at TSA right now. Interestingly it was 10 years, almost to the day between the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber. In that decade, thousands of people lost their lives on 9/11 and al-Qaeda has stayed its course.

While Jim DeMint plays politics with the Obama administration, and Gale Rossides focuses on her often-stated goal of creating the proper “business model” for TSA, al-Queda may be taking advantage of this country’s misplaced priorities by using the time to prepare more bomb attacks.

Contrary to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s proclamations about how the system worked exactly as it was supposed to, it appears there really is no system in place to ensure the safety of American air travelers. And, it is clear that there are individuals, both elected and appointed, in positions for which they are woefully unprepared or politicized to our detriment. I, for one, do not feel particularly safe. Do you?

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