Airport Security Bill in TSA, DHS Standoff Up for Senate Review

  • Registered Traveler bill has been tabled several times already
  • CLEAR lobbying for bill to pass in lame-duck session

A private airport screening company could access a federal database of personal information about American citizens under a bill a Senate panel is slated to consider next week.

After several fits and starts, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will take up a measure (S. 3730) on Nov. 18 that would give CLEAR access to the database the Transportation Security Administration uses to screen passengers.

The legislation is meant to allow private Registered Traveler program companies to assume authority from TSA to screen airport passengers’ identities. CLEAR is currently the only participant in TSA’s RT screening program. Travelers that pay for a CLEAR membership go through expedited identity screening at the airport and are sent to the front of the security line.

CLEAR has been lobbying committee members and administration officials, as Bloomberg Government reported previously, and which several lobbyists have said is continuing. The company spent nearly $1.5 million on lobbying in the first nine months of 2020, which is 28% more than it spent in all of 2019, according to a Bloomberg Government analysis of lobbying disclosures.

CLEAR is pushing to get the bill approved by the Commerce Committee so it can ride on any year-end legislation such as the annual defense policy bill, a government funding bill, or Covid-19 relief legislation, two lobbyists familiar with the bill said.

Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images
A Transportation Security Administration employee looks on at an empty security line as he waits for passengers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., on May 12, 2020.

The Senate panel, which has oversight of TSA, previously put the bill on its agenda for a spring meeting and then again planned to consider it in September, each time facing obstacles with panel members and administration officials.

TSA vs. DHS

CLEAR’s expanded role under the legislation from a line-skipping, identification service to an airport security vetting service was “a bridge too far,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske wrote in a May letter to the Senate Commerce Committee. Pekoske’s letter prompted the panel to scrap a scheduled markup at that time.

Ken Cuccinelli, the senior official performing the duties of the deputy DHS secretary, overruled TSA’s objections to a Senate proposal in a September letter to bill sponsor Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

Pekoske, whose agency controls the Registered Traveler program, has since been removed from providing any administration input on the proposed bill, according to three people familiar with the internal dynamics of DHS.

Cuccinelli referred the bill to the Office of Management and Budget for formal review. OMB did not respond to a request for comment on the status of any review.

Pre-Check

A second TSA bill, ( S. 4577) from Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), is also on the committee’s agenda.

Under that bill, TSA would have to give travelers the option to enroll in TSA PreCheck through a secure mobile platform. TSA would be required to work with the FBI on a secure mobile enrollment option, which would make it easier for people to enroll at home during the coronavirus pandemic, when many TSA PreCheck operations are closed.

TSA PreCheck providers include Alclear LLC, which owns CLEAR, as well as IDEMIA, and Telos Identity Management Solutions LLC.

The committee’s Nov. 18 meeting is likely the last for this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com

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