WASHINGTON — Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano squared off over an armed pilots security program on Wednesday.
Cravaack has criticized the Obama administration for proposing to halve funding for the $25 million Federal Flight Deck Officers program, which trains commercial pilots to carry guns in the cockpit. Cravaack inserted a $10 million funding increase into the House-passed Homeland Security appropriations bill (offset by funding cuts to a pair of TSA accounts) which the Obama administration and congressional Democrats oppose.
When Napolitano testified before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday, Cravaack charged that the Obama administration was looking to end the program by cutting it’s funding. Obama has supported a risk-based approach to airline security, in which threats are identified and dealt with before boarding an aircraft.
“I see the FFDO program as being absolutely vital, with 1.5 million sorties being flown annually, at the cost to the American taxpayer for $15 a flight,” Cravaack said to Napolitano during a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee Wednesday.
“As a pilot that flew for 17 years, as a former federal flight deck officer, I can assure you, ma’am, that the federal flight deck officer is not only the last line of defense, but a chief deterrent for those that wish to use an aircraft as a human-guided missile,” Cravaack continued.
Napolitano defended the Obama administration’s budget request for the FFDO program, which allows members of flight crews who have been approved by the Transportation Security Administration to be armed with guns during flights.
“As you all know, we’re working under severe budget constraints,” she said to Cravaack. “The FFDO program, as compared to the air marshal program, is not a risk-based program. So that’s why that decision was made.”
Cravaack asked Napolitano is the Obama administration would continue the program, in full, if Congress appropriated the FFDO program at the level he supports.
“If there is funding, we will carry out the program, yes sir,” Napolitano said.
Cravaack and Napolitano fought over the FFDO program in March when she testified before the committee. She told Cravaack then, “The program is not risk-based. You will have a FFDO whether [a threat] is on the flight or not. … We have not predicted its demise, we just think we could do it for less.”
The Senate has not taken up the Homeland Security funding bill (since it hasn’t taken up any appropriations bills yet) and the Obama administration has threatened to veto it should it get that far.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.