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TSA chief will be a 'no show' at congressional hearing

By Jim Barnett, CNN
updated 5:41 AM EST, Thu November 29, 2012
TSA Administrator John Pistole says he won't testify before a committee that lacks jurisdiction over his agency.
TSA Administrator John Pistole says he won't testify before a committee that lacks jurisdiction over his agency.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Agency director says House committee doesn't have jurisdiction
  • Transportation chairman has been tough critic of TSA
  • Hearing will go on as planned with other witnesses

(CNN) -- A congressional hearing Thursday on aviation security will be missing its chief witness, who declined to testify.

Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole had been asked to appear before the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation on the impact of his agency's policies on passengers and the airline industry.

But Pistole said he had no plans to attend, arguing the panel has no jurisdiction over TSA matters.

The TSA has been regularly criticized over the years by Republicans in the House, especially, for not becoming leaner and more efficient.

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"No representative from TSA will be present," Pistole said in a statement posted on the agency's website.

It is not common but not unheard of for an agency director to decline to testify at a congressional hearing outside of a scheduling conflict or another agreed-upon reason.

The full Transportation Committee is chaired by Florida Republican John Mica, who has been a tough critic of TSA -- whether led by Republican or Democratic administrations -- for its size, for long security lines at airports, and for screening policies he says have fallen short.

Mica's chairmanship ends in January due to House Republican rules that limit such tenures.

The committee insisted it has legislative jurisdiction when it comes to the airline industry and its passengers, who help finance TSA operations through security fees.

The committee said it has a responsibility to ensure that travelers, airport operations and U.S. commerce are not disrupted by TSA policies, procedures or operations.

"TSA is missing the point," said Justin Harclerode, a spokesman for the full committee. "While this committee does not have direct legislative jurisdiction over TSA, that agency, as with any other agency, has a responsibility to provide congressionally requested testimony or information."

Harclerode said, "Unfortunately, TSA regularly chooses to not even respond to simple requests for information by this committee."

Pistole said TSA would continue to work with "committees of jurisdiction" on agency matters.

He said TSA witnesses have testified at 38 hearings and provided 425 briefings for lawmakers during this session of Congress.

The hearing will go on as planned. Witnesses include two government watchdogs: an official from the Homeland Security Department's inspector general's office and a homeland security expert from the Government Accountability Office.

Industry representatives will also appear.

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