WASHINGTON Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned on Wednesday that travelers could face longer waits to get through airport security if Republican-proposed budget cuts are adopted.
The fiscal 2011 budget plan passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives does not include President Barack Obama's request for more funds for transportation security officers, full-body scanners and other explosive detection equipment in fiscal 2011.
"It will probably result in increases in wait times for passengers in the air environment and those could be significant," she told a Senate appropriations subcommittee, referring to the inability to buy more equipment and hire more security screeners.
"These are necessary because our adversaries, al Qaeda and al Qaeda-related, continue to seek aviation as a target and continue to target it by means other than something that would be picked up only by a magnetometer," Napolitano said.
The government has been operating under temporary spending measures for the 2011 fiscal budget, which ends September 30, and Republicans who control the House of Representatives have proposed wide-ranging cuts, including for homeland security.
DHS had hoped to buy 500 full-body scanners but will only be able to purchase about 250 and only half the number of explosive detection machines, 415 of 811, it sought to acquire this fiscal year, according to Napolitano.
A Republican congressional aide disputed potential airport delays, saying that the budget proposal was equivalent to the fiscal 2010 budget and questioned DHS and TSA plans to buy the equipment and hire associated personnel this year.
"It is the same funding level as last year and therefore makes sense that it would have little effect on wait times," the aide said, declining to be further identified.
The funding bill has passed the House but Democrats who control the Senate have said that they will not bring it up for a vote because it includes steep cuts in security and social programs and would result in large job losses.
DHS and TSA have tried to accelerate the purchase of such machines after numerous attempted attacks on the U.S. aviation system, including the 2009 Christmas Day attempt in which a Nigerian man is accused of trying to blow up a transatlantic flight with a bomb hidden in his underwear.
The Yemeni affiliate of al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has claimed responsibility for that plot as well as an attempt to detonate bombs packed in toner cartridges that were shipped via express mail carriers.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by David Alexander and Cynthia Osterman)