House seeks to rein in emergency security directives

October 1, 2009

The Transportation Security Administration could have to clear a checkpoint, so to speak, if Congress gets its way.

Reps. John Mica (R-Fla.), Tom Petri (R-Wis.), Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), and Sam Graves (R-Mo.) introduced a bill Sept. 30 that would modify the TSA’s authority to issue security directives (SDs) using emergency procedures.

An SD can be issued without notice or public input. In emergency cases, the TSA administrator can issue an SD even without giving notice or the opportunity to comment to the Department of Transportation secretary.

The bill would amend the U.S. Code so that the TSA couldn’t issue an SD immediately. Instead the TSA would need to have the SD reviewed by the Transportation Security Oversight Board “to determine if the regulation or security directive is needed to respond to an imminent threat of finite duration.”

It also would require the TSA to consider whether the cost of the SD would be “excessive in relation to the enhancement of security,” whether it would remain in effect for more than 90 days, and if it would require revision after 90 days. And any SD that would be in effect for more than 180 days would be required to go through the rulemaking process.

If the bill were to be enacted into law, Security Directive 1542-04-08G (SD-8G), which requires pilots based at commercial-service airports to get a badge in order to have unescorted access to the airport, would have to go through the rulemaking process. And that would give pilots the opportunity to comment and help change the directive.

The SD emergency process came under scrutiny earlier this year when the TSA issued SD-8G’s predecessor, 8F, without prior knowledge or input from the aviation community.