President Bush yesterday signed into law the bill creating the Department of Homeland Security (public law number P.L. 107-296), the largest reorganization of the U.S. government in more than 50 years. The President also nominated his current homeland security director, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, to head the Cabinet-level agency that will combine 22 separate federal agencies. Among those agencies moving that have a direct impact on general aviation are the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Customs Service.
"The Department of Homeland Security will have a significant role in the future of general aviation," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Fortunately, AOPA already has an extensive range of contacts within the new department, starting at the very top. And we worked very hard with Congress to ensure that homeland security officials understand and carefully consider the impact their decisions will have on GA."
AOPA already has a working relationship with Gov. Tom Ridge and with Adm. James Loy, recently confirmed as the TSA chief. President Bush also nominated Asa Hutchinson as the under secretary for Border and Transportation Security, who will oversee TSA in the new department. AOPA has worked with Hutchinson before when as a congressman from Arkansas he served on the House aviation subcommittee.
Now that Bush has signed the legislation, he has 60 days to send an implementation plan to Congress for review. A high-level Department of Transportation official told AOPA that once lawmakers receive the President's proposal (which will probably happen before Christmas), they will have 90 days to approve or amend it. The official calculated that it is too soon to accurately predict when the agencies will make the move to their new home. However, TSA is likely to be among the first agencies to move.
The Homeland Security law consolidates all security-related functions government-wide under one department. The legislation dictates that the department will have a liaison to coordinate with the FAA. AOPA secured language in the bill requiring TSA to use "all reasonable measures to ensure efficiency and a viable transportation system as it fulfills its security obligations." Language opposed by AOPA that would have expanded TFRs over chemical weapons plants, further breaking up airspace, was removed from the bill before final passage.
Photo: AOPA President Phil Boyer with Gov. Tom Ridge during one of their meetings earlier this year.