Tuesday was Tom Ridge's last day as Secretary of Homeland Security. Wednesday his likely successor, federal appeals court Judge Michael Chertoff, confidently told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security what things would be like on his watch. AOPA legislative affairs staff present at the hearing report that Chertoff said it was important that the department not focus on just one segment like aviation while ignoring significant problems in other areas, such as the vulnerability of the nation's seaports.
"We will certainly encourage Judge Chertoff to point Homeland Security at the areas where there are truly significant threats to Americans," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, "because tonight, with the Washington ADIZ closed for the State of the Union address, and TFRs popping up across the nation the rest of the week for the President's travels, general aviation feels like it remains in the spotlight. And we have demonstrated over and over that our small, slow aircraft aren't the real threats."
Chertoff also promised to improve technology and management at the Homeland Security Department. It will be a monumental task. "You're stepping into a situation that can only be described as dysfunctional," Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) told the nominee.
That echoed testimony before the committee from last week. At that first meeting of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, security experts assessed the department's performance and strategy for the road ahead. Panel members testified that security for airplanes has been addressed, and it is time to move on to improving security for surface transportation.
Richard Skinner, acting inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, told the committee, "While TSA continues to address critical aviation security needs, it is moving slowly to improve security across other modes of transportation."
Last year, the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and ranking member Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) were the primary sponsors and leading force behind the Intelligence Reform Act (often referred to as the Collins/Lieberman Act). A portion of this act mandates the FAA to modify the pilot certificate to include a photo of the airman.
In today's hearing, Judge Chertoff didn't mention general aviation. He did promise, however, to reconcile the imperatives of security with the preservation of liberty and privacy.
As a judge, he told the committee, "I have committed to fostering liberty and privacy. If confirmed, I will draw on this background to promote measures that enhance our security while affirming our constitutional values."
The committee will likely vote on Chertoff's nomination Monday.
February 2, 2005