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Congresswoman Waters Calls for Improved Cargo Screening at LAX and Other Airports

July 15, 2009
Press Release

Concerned about the methods used to screen airline cargo at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the nation's other airports as well as the fact that much cargo carried on passenger flights remains unscreened, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-35) is calling on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to inform Congress about current cargo screening practices.  She is also requesting that TSA – the agency created to protect the nation's transportation system after 9/11 – provide a progress report on meeting its mandate to screen 100 percent of air cargo by August of 2010.

Congresswoman Waters today submitted two amendments to the Homeland Security Appropriations Act (H.R. 2892): the LAX Cargo Screening Reporting Amendment and the Cargo Screening Reporting Amendment.

"LAX is located in my Congressional district.  It serves my constituents as well as millions of other Americans and travelers from all over the world and is also a major hub for cargo shipments.  The safety of LAX, its passengers and employees is of vital importance to the communities I represent, to California's economy and to national security.  I want to make sure that we are doing everything possible to safeguard the airport and our country, and this includes thoroughly screening all cargo transported on passenger flights arriving at or leaving from LAX," said Congresswoman Waters.

According to the airport's web site, LAX is the 6th busiest airport in the world for passengers and ranks 13th in the world in air cargo handled.  In 2008, airlines at LAX served 59.8 million passengers and handled 1.8 million tons of cargo.

"I don't want to unduly alarm the public about the safety of traveling through LAX or any other airport, but neither should we have a false sense of security," said Congresswoman Waters.  "The fact of the matter is that today, almost eight years after the tragedy of 9/11, much airline cargo is loaded onto passenger flights without having been screened for explosives."

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the TSA was created by Congress and required to provide for the screening of all passengers and property transported on passenger aircraft in the United States.  This includes cargo, U.S. mail, checked baggage, and carry-on baggage.  However, currently, much cargo is still loaded on passenger airplanes without being screened for explosives.  Although TSA directly screens all air passengers and their baggage before they board commercial aircraft, cargo screening continues to be the responsibility of individual airlines, and much of the cargo carried in "the belly of the plane" is not screened at all.

In 2007, approximately 7.6 billion pounds of cargo was transported on passenger aircraft in the United States.  Fifty-six percent was transported on domestic flights, and 44 percent was transported into the United States on board international flights.

The 9/11 Commission Act, which was enacted in 2007, required TSA to establish a system to physically screen 50 percent of cargo on passenger aircraft by February of 2009, and 100 percent of such cargo by August of 2010.

There is considerable reason to doubt whether TSA is making adequate progress towards this mandate, especially with regards to cargo on flights arriving from international airports.
On March 31, 2009, during a hearing before the Subcommittee on Homeland Security of the Committee on Appropriations, Gale Rossides, the Acting Administrator of TSA, testified that "we are confident that the industry is currently screening at least 50 percent of air cargo transported on passenger aircraft on flights originating in the United States."  She admitted that it is unlikely that TSA will be able to meet the mandate to screen 100 percent of air cargo on board international flights.

Congresswoman Waters' amendments would require TSA to submit a report to Congress regarding the status of air cargo screening at LAX and nationwide respectively and the progress TSA has made in meeting its mandate to screen 100 percent of such cargo by August of 2010.  The reports would be submitted within 90 days after enactment and would address cargo from both domestic and international departure points and describe each of the methods used to screen cargo, including hand inspection, visual inspection, explosive detection systems, and shipping from secured facilities.