Monday, April 05, 2004
Senator Tells TSA: Arm Pilots or Lose Funding "Frustrated by the Transportation Security Administration's delay in arming airline pilots with guns, four members of Congress said Thursday they want the agency to quit dragging its feet.

'We're not interested in any excuses from here on out. This is too important to our national security,' said Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), who introduced legislation that would require TSA to speed up the process of arming pilots.

click to enlargeBunning was joined by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who is sponsoring a companion bill in the House. But it was the Kentucky senator who had the harshest words for TSA.

'They'll get the message or they'll lose their money for the program,' Bunning said. 'We'll put it somewhere where it will get the job done.'

Congress passed the federal flight deck officer program in November 2002 in hopes of making airline pilots the last line of defense against hijackings. A year later lawmakers added cargo pilots to the program.

But, as a investigation found, TSA has made the program cumbersome and discouraging for pilots. According to Wilson, less than 1 percent of the 40,000 pilots who signed up to participate have been trained.

Pilots have complained about the way federal flight deck officers must transport their firearms - in lockboxes, except inside the cockpit; TSA-administered background investigations, psychological exams and the release of personal information; and the remote location of the program's single training facility in Artesia, N.M.

'To have an agency that is unelected, that is sitting on legislation like this and not doing it is absolutely wrong,' Boxer said. 'In essence, TSA is turning its back on a law that is the law of the land.'

Added Bunning, 'It's not up to them to like the legislation. It's up to them to implement the legislation that the Congress passed.'"

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