By Zayida Baker

At a time when some fear Congress’ power is receding, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, under Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., is flexing its authority over the Transportation Security Administration. Rep. Steve Southerland serves on the committee and its Subcommittee on Aviation.

After September 11, 2001, Rep. Mica helped author legislation creating the TSA to ensure secure travel. It was to be housed in the Department of Homeland Security and overseen in the House primarily by the Committee on Homeland Security. Today, its chairman, Rep. Peter King, R-NY, guards his committee’s jurisdiction over “transportation security” from Mica with frequent declarations of its “sole jurisdiction over all TSA security matters” (emphasis added).

Mica’s committee also oversees TSA because of its responsibility for “civil aviation,” “transportation labor,” and “transportation safety (except automobile and transportation security functions of the Department of Homeland Security)” (emphasis added). It monitors “the passenger experience and the flow of commerce,” touching TSA and other transportation unions, efficiency, and passenger satisfaction, as distinct from security issues.

Measured by committee statements, Mica’s oversight of TSA has been more aggressive than King’s. This year Mica’s committee has released eight statements on TSA, while King’s has released three. In their plans for oversight, Mica’s committee expresses concern for “the passenger experience,” but King’s does not.

Generally, Mica’s committee comments immediately on TSA developments, accentuating King’s silence. This happened January 28 when TSA stopped expansion of the Screening Partnership Program, which since 2004 has allowed airports to opt to use private companies for security screening rather than TSA forces. So it was when TSA announced February 4 that it would give its workforce collective-bargaining rights; and on March 9, it was Mica’s Transportation Committee that publicized the Government Accountability Office’s finding that TSA had used inflated cost-data to abolish SPP and deny five airports’ applications.

The committee released its own report June 6, concluding that SPP is 65% more efficient than TSA–not less efficient–and should assume all airport screening. SPP’s expansion would save $1 billion over five years while freeing TSA to “get out of the human resources business,” or labor, and specialize in security regulation. The committee pounced again June 23 when TSA selected American Federation of Government Employees as its union. (King is sponsoring a bill to restore SPP.)

Mica knows unions. In overseeing the Federal Aviation Administration, he requested a June review of the air traffic controllers’ labor agreement with an eye toward preventing potential cost overruns as high as $1 billion. His FAA reauthorization bill, which passed the House in April and awaits Senate action, repealed union-friendly provisions.

Unlike his predecessors, TSA head and Obama appointee John Pistole denies the Transportation Committee’s jurisdiction over his agency. He refused to testify at the committee’s April 14 hearing on cost and completion problems with the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program to implement biometric IDs for maritime workers. Pistole asserted that “The House of Representatives, through its own rules, determined that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee does not have jurisdiction over TSA.”

However, House Rule X permits committees to “have jurisdiction over the same or related laws, programs, or agencies.” If the House wished to terminate Mica’s jurisdiction, it could amend the rule.

Southerland, who was at the April 14 hearing, noted that Pistole’s blatant disregard “infuriates Chairman Mica”; he and Mica, weeks later, joined a House vote to decrease TSA’s budget by defunding collective bargaining. Mica intends to keep asking questions and collaborate with other committees if necessary. Congress has power over appropriations and investigation, which ultimately assures Southerland that its “authority will only be eroded by the amount Congress allows.”

You may wish to contact
Rep. Southerland: (202) 225-5235
TSA: (866) 289-9673
Chairman Mica: (202) 225-9446
Chairman King: (202) 226-8417

Zayida Baker covers Rep. Steve Southerland and Sen. Bill Nelson for Tea Party Patriots’ Government Accountability Project. She can be reached at zayida.baker@tppjournalism.org.