The chairman of the Senate panel that oversees Homeland Security funding today called physical pat-downs at the nation's airports "very disturbing," adding that he hopes their use can be minimized.
Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said the experience that airline passengers have at airport-security checkpoints should be "as comfortable as humanely possible."
But Lautenberg did not call for an end to the pat-downs, which have provoked a public backlash that the Obama administration is trying to tamp down on the eve of the holiday season. Indeed, Lautenberg stood with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a train station in Trenton, N.J., today for a news conference intended to urge travelers to be vigilant, and ended up fielding several questions about the airport pat-down procedures.
Napolitano reiterated what she has been saying for a week -- that Homeland Security officials believe the pat-downs are necessary. She added, though, that her department is open to making changes to screening procedures if warranted and if doing so does not compromise security.
"I think we all understand the concerns Americans have about that. It's something new," Napolitano said. "Most Americans are not used to a real law-enforcement pat-down like that."
She emphasized that screeners are conducting pat-downs "in as minimally an invasive way" as possible.
"This is all being done for the protection of the traveling public," she said. "It is being done in as minimally invasive a way as we see appropriate."
John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration, told a Senate committee last week that the pat-downs are "clearly more invasive" than procedures used in the past.
For now, it does not appear the Obama administration is going to change airport-screening procedures for passengers -- at least not before the Thanksgiving holiday.
This article appears in the November 22, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.