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November 01, 2011

Reps. Thompson, Markey, Jackson-Lee Query TSA on Missed Deadline for Screening Cargo on U.S.-Bound Passenger Planes

(WASHINGTON) – It has been a year since international cooperation helped thwart an attempt to detonate a toner cartridge bomb on a cargo plane from Yemen to the United States. Despite the ongoing significant risk that unscreened cargo poses to America's aviation system, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced it will miss a December deadline for screening 100 percent of all cargo transported from overseas into the United States. A Congressional provision passed in 2007 as part of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act mandated that 100 percent of such cargo be screened by August 2010. When TSA missed this deadline, the agency indicated it would reach 100 percent screening level by the end of 2011. Recently, TSA informed freight-shipping trade groups that it will no longer require all air cargo bound for the U.S. to be screened by the end of the year and did not set a new deadline. Representatives Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) sent a letter to TSA asking how the agency plans to fully achieve the 100 percent screening mandate as intended by Congress.

"With the marking of the one-year anniversary of an air cargo terrorist plot, launched by an al Qaeda terrorist affiliate in Yemen – TSA should be working steadfastly and aggressively to get international agreements in place to ensure that all cargo loaded on planes bound for the U.S. is screened—as required under the law," said Rep. Thompson. "As a nation, we must not lose momentum on closing this known security vulnerability."

"It has been one year since we were reminded that terrorists fully intend to exploit the loophole that allows unscreened cargo to enter the United States on planes," said Rep. Markey. "Terrorists continue to place aviation at the top of its target list. TSA must finish the job of closing the loophole in our air cargo screening system, especially as we enter the holiday travel season."

"Everyone understands that cargo screening is not an easy or inexpensive undertaking; however, it is logical that if we screen passengers, all carry-ons, and all checked baggage, then we must screen the remaining items onboard passenger aircraft, and that is belly cargo," said Rep. Jackson-Lee. "Ensuring security is a part of doing business in the post-9/11 world."

The letter to TSA can be found HERE.

In 2007, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law H.R.1/S.4, which includes the Markey-authored 100 percent screening requirement for cargo on passenger planes as Section 1602, "Screening of Cargo Carried Aboard Passenger Aircraft" (P.L. 110-53). In August 2010, TSA met the mandate to screen 100 percent of all air cargo on passenger planes traveling domestically. However, at that time the agency indicated it would need until December 2011 to meet the mandate for cargo bound from international flights.

The lawmakers ask TSA to response to questions that include:

  • Is "risk-based" screening the ultimate security outcome for TSA meeting the 100 percent air cargo screening mandate or does it underscore a phased-in effort to achieve 100 percent?
  • What were the factors involved in the decision to delay implementation of the 100 percent cargo screening mandate?
  • What is the current timeline for fulfilling the international air cargo screening mandate?
  • What screening methods is TSA considering for the screening of international inbound cargo?

Rep. Thompson currently serves as Ranking Member on the House Committee on Homeland Security. As Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in 2007, Rep. Thompson authored H.R. 1: the Implementing 9/11 Commission Recommendation Act—the comprehensive homeland security legislation that included a critical provision, authored by Rep. Markey, to require 100% screening of all air cargo transported on domestic passenger planes and all international passenger planes entering the U.S. Rep. Markey currently serves as Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Jackson-Lee is a leader on transportation security issues on the Homeland Security Committee and serves as the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security.

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Media Contact:
(Thompson) Adam Comis at (202) 225-9978
(Markey) Giselle Barry at (202) 225-2836
(Jackson-Lee) Mike McQuerry at (202) 226-1504