Transportation Security Administrator Peter Neffenger was headed to Brussels for meetings on March 22, the day of the terrorist attacks against that city. He landed “just as the bombs detonated,” he said, deplaning into a fractured and panic-stricken airport.
So when the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing Wednesday morning, the occasion seemed destined for intense or emotional moments. After all, the senators themselves had just traveled to Washington earlier this week from a long spring recess; it seemed reasonable to expect that some might want to know just how safe they’d been in those travels. Plus, this was the Senate’s first chance to grill Neffenger since the bombings, to make impressive national-security pronouncements, and to press him on his agency’s capability to prevent similar metro and airport attacks in America.
But lawmakers Wednesday morning seemed more interested in fact-finding—often on behalf of their local transportation hubs—than in breathing fire about the looming dangers of terrorism. Whether about TSA checkpoints in Denver or border concerns in Washington state, the hearing at times took on a hyper-local bent. After Nevada Republican Dean Heller quizzed Neffenger on the much-used McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Chairman John Thune of South Dakota thanked his colleague for his questioning. “There are not many places that you can get direct flights from Sioux Falls, South Dakota,” he said. “But one of them is to Vegas, so my constituents were adding to that number coming into and out of your airport this year.”