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House Vote Would Limit Reach of TSA Security Directives

Amendment now part of TSA Authorization Act

June 4, 2009 — Sometimes it’s as much about how you go about doing business as it is about what business you do. In the case of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and its issuance of security directives, the general aviation community hasn’t been happy with either the hows or the whats.  The issue has recently come to a head in response to an outcry from the general aviation community in response to TSA Security Directive 08F and 08G, which require background checks and badges for general aviation pilots and aircraft owners operating at airports with any form of commercial service.

Today, however, after an exhaustive and united advocacy effort by numerous general-aviation groups, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed an amendment to the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act that would address the “how” concerns by reining in the TSA’s policymaking-by-decree practices.

In a 219-211 vote, a majority of the lawmakers agreed with assertions from EAA and other groups that the TSA has been using security directives (SDs) to bypass a rulemaking process that should, among other requirements, solicit and consider comments from affected parties. The amendment clarifies the conditions under which the TSA would be authorized to issue security directives, limiting the practice only to situations involving an imminent threat and a finite duration.

A May 22 joint letter that EAA and several other general aviation groups sent to the amendment’s sponsor, John Mica (R-FL), expressed support: “We have seen the TSA repeatedly use SDs to vastly expand existing requirements without consideration of the implementation challenges, operational impacts, and economic burdens such mandates impose on the aviation industry. Our most recent experience involves the expansion of security credentialing requirements to tens of thousands of pilots and employees at airports and aviation manufacturers without due consideration and process ….”

Joining EAA in this statement were Airports Council International (ACI), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), National Air Transportation Association (NATA), and National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).

These groups and others also worked collaboratively with the members of the newly formed House General Aviation Caucus to muster the needed votes to pass the amendment. “Because of the ongoing emphasis on homeland security issues, we had to provide education and, ultimately, overcome several House members’ predisposition to support our national security agencies on all matters, regardless of impact. We had to show that this amendment would not hamstring any security efforts. Rather, it allows TSA to continue to mitigate security risks while reinforcing the Administration’s pledge of transparency and public review of governmental policymaking, whenever possible,” said Doug Macnair, EAA vice president of government affairs, who lobbied for this amendment on behalf of EAA members along with many other dedicated staff from organizations representing every facet of general aviation.

The amendment’s sponsors, co-sponsors, and major supporters on the GA Caucus included Mica, Allen Boyd (D-FL), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Sam Graves (R-MO), and Thomas Petri (R-WI). “Today’s outcome was the result of a concerted effort among the general aviation associations, Congressional staff, and the leadership of the newly formed GA Caucus. I know that both Allen Boyd and Vern Ehlers had to be very persuasive with some of their peers in the House, or this amendment would likely not have passed,” Macnair said.

The vote itself was a nail-biter, with the voting period uncharacteristically remaining open for 30 minutes while many members appeared pressured into changing their initial “yes” vote to “no”-  prompting some parliamentary inquiries into the event.

Although today’s vote represents a significant stride, this battle isn’t over. The overall TSA Authorization Bill to which this amendment is attached must still either be introduced and voted on as a companion bill in the Senate or be reconciled with a different Senate bill in conference later this year.  EAA will continue to work toward ultimate passage of the new TSA rulemaking and policymaking procedures.

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