How Safe Is that Flight? Auditors Question Airport Security

How Safe Is that Flight? Auditors Question Airport Security

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
By Brianna Ehley, The Fiscal Times

A government spat between Congress and the Transportation Safety Administration yesterday raised a question: Is the TSA trying to stonewall a congressional committee looking into reports suggesting the agency may be failing in its $7 billion-a-year mission to safeguard airports and air travel from terrorist threats?

At the start of Wednesday’s TSA: Are Airports Safe? hearing, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT ) immediately pointed out a glaring absence from the witness panel—the TSA.

Related: Poor Maintenance Could Make that Airport Scanner a Dud

Chaffetz said the committee had invited TSA acting administrator Melvin Carraway, but the agency offered a lower-level official in his place.

“The Department of Homeland Security objected to [Carraway’s] presence on the panel because they felt it was demeaning to have the acting director sit on the same panel as a private sector witness,” he said, referring to Raffi Fron, president of New Age Security Solutions, a company that provides security systems such as video surveillance.

The hearing was prompted by two separate but equally scathing watchdog reports that question the TSA’s ability to effectively screen passengers.

“Our audits have repeatedly found that human error— often a simple failure to follow protocol—poses significant vulnerabilities,” DHS’s IG John Roth said—adding that despite offering hundreds of recommendations the TSA has failed to assure that its mission is succeeding.

Related: Report Says TSA Wasted $1 Billion on Screening Program

DHS stood by its decision not to send its acting administrator. An agency official told The Fiscal Times that the department only participates in congressional hearing panels with other government agencies—not with private-sector witnesses in order to avoid conflicts of interest. 

A spokesperson for the committee said that “witness invitations are not transferable” and that the “DHS does not dictate how we run our hearings.”

This isn’t the only roadblock the Oversight Committee has run into with the TSA. During the hearing, Chairman Chaffetz showed off a heavily redacted document he had requested from the agency—saying even members of Congress had “exceptional” difficulties getting information from them.

The committee spokesperson said House Oversight is currently looking into other ways the TSA has frustrated congressional inquiries—and what kinds of action can be taken.

The Trump Budget's $1.2 Trillion in 'Phantom Revenues'

Trump budget arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington
KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

President Trump’s 2020 budget includes up to $1.2 trillion in “potentially phantom revenues” — money that comes from taxes the administration opposes or from tax hikes that face strong opposition from businesses, The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin reports, citing data from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. That total, covering 2020 through 2029, includes as much as $390 billion in taxes created under the Affordable Care Act, which the president wants to repeal.

The $1.2 trillion in questionable revenue projections is in addition to the White House budget’s projected deficits of $7.3 trillion for the 10-year period. That total is itself questionable, given that the president’s budget relies on optimistic assumptions about economic growth and some unrealistic spending cuts, meaning that the deficits could be significantly higher than projected.

Chart of the Day: Trump's Huge Proposed Cuts to Public Investment

Trump budget arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington
KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Ben Ritz of the Progressive Policy Institute slams President Trump’s new budget:

“It would dismantle public investments that lay the foundation for economic growth, resulting in less innovation. It would shred the social safety net, resulting in more poverty. It would rip away access to affordable health care, resulting in more disease. It would cut taxes for the rich, resulting in more income inequality. It would bloat the defense budget, resulting in more wasteful spending. And all this would add up to a higher national debt than the policies in President Obama’s final budget proposal.”

Here’s Ritz’s breakdown of Trump’s proposed spending cuts to public investment in areas such as infrastructure, education and scientific research:

Chart of the Day: The Decline in Corporate Taxes

By The Fiscal Times Staff

Since roughly the end of World War Two, individual income taxes in the U.S. have equaled about 8 percent of GDP. By contrast, the Tax Policy Center says, “corporate income tax revenues declined from 6% of GDP in 1950s to under 2% in the 1980s through the Great Recession, and have averaged 1.4% of GDP since then.”

Tax Refunds Rebound

Flickr / Chris Potter
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Smaller refunds in the first few weeks of the current tax season were shaping up to be a political problem for Republicans, but new data from the IRS shows that the value of refund checks has snapped back and is now running 1.3 percent higher than last year. The average refund through February 23 last year was $3,103, while the average refund through February 22 of 2019 was $3,143 – a difference of $40. The chart below from J.P. Morgan shows how refunds performed over the last 3 years.