Lawmakers lash out at TSA chief John Pistole over airport screening

In this Sept. 7, 2011, photo, Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole speaks at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance conference in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011. Pistole, who for decades as an FBI agent breezed past airport security checkpoints, is the faceless bane of air travelers who must remove belts, endure an intimate pat-down or are instructed to throw away a perfectly good 6-ounce bottle of shampoo. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh

Susan Walsh

(CBS News) Lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday bashed the Transportation Security Administration chief for being slow to respond to both the changing threats to the air travel system and the changing needs of travelers increasingly frustrated by inconsistent experiences with airport screeners.

"It's palpable. The American people are just really disgusted and outraged with the department that they see as bloated and inefficient," said Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security.

"Progress at TSA has come at a snail's pace and in some ways has gone backwards," Rogers said, adding "the American people need to see immediate changes that impact them."

TSA Administrator John Pistole shot back.

"Chairman Rogers, I would respectfully disagree with your assessment," he said, noting that the agency has made significant progress becoming more efficient and more effective over the last two years.

Pistole noted last month's disruption of an al Qaeda plot to blow up a U.S. bound airliner "highlights the challenges that the men and women of TSA face every day, to keep safe the 1.7 million or so travelers who fly within the US and from the US from the 450 airports, while we strive to provide the most effective security in the most efficient way and we are taking a number of steps to achieve those goals."

The top Democrat on the full committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, called for an independent analysis of the TSA's way of doing business.

"Maybe we ought to have a fresh set of eyes," Thompson told Pistole, noting that the Government Accountability Office has recommended a third party audit of the TSA's performance.

At the same time, Rogers chastised Pistole for not being willing to reduce the size of the TSA workforce.

"I want you to cut out those people that are standing around not doing anything at the airport screening checkpoints," Rogers said.

Pistole said he was not prepared to make any pledges to eliminate jobs as the TSA needs to be able to confidently say it is protecting the flying public.

"I'm not prepared to say a percentage that I'm willing to reduce because I believe the personnel we have currently, again using that part time construct, are necessary to provide the security the American people expect today," he told Rogers.

To which Rogers replied: "you and I both know, everybody in this room knows, you can get by with less folks."

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