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Bill would ease airport screening of troops

The legislation is the latest government effort to focus security screening on the worst threats, under what is called a risk-based strategy. Other steps the Transportation Security Administration has taken include experiments allowing pilots to skirt security lines at some airports and having expedited screening for frequent flyers on several airlines.

Rep. Chip Cravaack, who spent 24 years in the Navy, said the idea for the bill came from seeing a veteran “with dust on his boots from Afghanistan” at an airport in Minnesota, where security officials “basically made him disrobe.”

“Basically, they’re treating him like a potential terrorist,” said Cravaack, R-Minn. “There’s got to be a better way.”

The legislation asks TSA to develop expedited screening for members of the military traveling in uniform and carrying their orders. The bill specifically seeks to ease the screening of combat boots.

Relatives accompanying a servicemember also would get expedited screening “to the extent possible,” under the legislation. “The least we can do is try to make their lives a little easier when they travel around the country they defend,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

TSA Administrator John Pistole is striving to ease screening for the more trustworthy and focusing on the lesser-known travelers or those who might pose a security risk.

TSA policies for the military include not forcing troops to remove their boots unless they set off an alarm, giving relatives gate passes to accompany troops and expediting screening for wounded vets.

But servicemembers must pack any firearms or other weapons in checked luggage, just like other passengers.

TSA began an experiment Nov. 15 at Monterey Peninsula Airport in California to check military identification, as a prelude to possible expedited screening.

U.S. servicemembers are entrusted to protect citizens with their lives and as such, TSA is recognizing that these members pose very little risk to security,” Pistole told the American Association of Airport Executives on Dec. 12.

Other risk-based experiments include:

•On Aug. 9, TSA, airlines and a pilots union began a program called “Known Crewmember” that now encompasses 22 airlines at seven airports: Chicago O’Hare, Miami, Seattle, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Washington Dulles and Boston. Pilots in uniform who present their identification can avoid screening machines by entering through special gates.

•On Oct. 4, TSA created a “Pre-Check” program for frequent flyers on Delta and American airlines at airports in Atlanta, Detroit, Dallas and Miami. The program expanded Dec. 14 to Las Vegas and will begin in early 2012 at Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

Eligible passengers are placed in expedited screening lines, where they are allowed to keep their shoes on and their laptops in their cases.

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