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.

Clarifying the Drop in Obamacare Premiums

An insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, California
© Mike Blake / Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

We told you Thursday about the Trump administration’s announcement that average premiums for benchmark Obamacare plans will fall 1.5 percent next year, but analyst Charles Gaba says the story is a bit more complicated. According to Gaba’s calculations, average premiums for all individual health plans will rise next year by 3.1 percent.

The difference between the two figures is produced by two very different datasets. The Trump administration included only the second-lowest-cost Silver plans in 39 states in its analysis, while Gaba examined all individual plans sold in all 50 states.

Number of the Day: $132,900

istockphoto
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The cap on Social Security payroll taxes will rise to $132,900 next year, an increase of 3.5 percent. (Earnings up to that level are subject to the Social Security tax.) The increase will affect about 11.6 million workers, Politico reports. Beneficiaries are also getting a boost, with a 2.8 percent cost-of-living increase coming in 2019.

Photo of the Day: Kanye West at the White House

President Trump speaks during a meeting with rapper Kanye West in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington
KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters
By Yuval Rosenberg

This is 2018: Kanye West visited President Trump at the White House Thursday and made a rambling 10-minute statement that aired on TV news networks. West’s lunch with the president was supposed to focus on clemency, crime in his hometown of Chicago and economic investment in urban areas, but his Oval Office rant veered into the bizarre. And since this is the world we live in, we’ll also point out that West apparently became “the first person to ever publicly say 'mother-f***er' in the Oval Office.”

Trump called Kanye’s monologue “pretty impressive.”

“That was bonkers,” MSNBC’s Ali Velshi said afterward.

Again, this is 2018.

Chart of the Day: GDP Growth Before and After the Tax Bill

Paul Ryan with tax return postcard
By The Fiscal Times Staff

President Trump and the rest of the GOP are celebrating the recent burst in economic growth in the wake of the tax cuts, with the president claiming that it’s unprecedented and defies what the experts were predicting just a year ago. But Rex Nutting of MarketWatch points out that elevated growth rates over a few quarters have been seen plenty of times in recent years, and the extra growth generated by the Republican tax cuts was predicted by most economists, including those at the Congressional Budget Office, whose revised projections are shown below.