For Immediate Release
Contact: Jenifer McCormick
(202) 225-4755
May 10, 2005

Sabo Amendment Addresses Abuse of "SSI" Designation within the DHS

Amendment approved in FY06 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill

Washington, D.C. - The "Sensitive Security Information" designation came under fire from Congressman Martin Olav Sabo (D-MN) in a House Appropriations Committee meeting today.

Rep. Sabo, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Subcommittee, offered an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security FY06 funding bill, requiring DHS to clarify "SSI" policy and procedure, including which staff may appropriately have designation authority. The amendment also withholds $10 million until the Department documents and justifies its use. The amendment was approved by the Appropriations Committee.

The SSI designation restricts the public release of documents, but is not the same as "classified" information. Congressman Sabo has long questioned the overuse of the SSI designation, particularly by the Transportation Security Administration. Last year, DHS labeled its phone directory "SSI." Another example of the questionable use of this designation came up last week when Congressman Sabo was asked to respond to a hometown media report on aviation security.

"A reporter wanted to discuss an allegation that airline representatives were accepting bank cash cards containing photos as proper documentation to board an aircraft. So I asked my staff to confirm what the TSA requirements are. The TSA responded that the requirements are SSI," Congressman Sabo said. "That's crazy. Everyone intending to board an airplane should know what identification is required."

At Congressman Sabo's request last year, the Government Accountability Office recently issued an interim report on the DHS and TSA use of the SSI designation. Not surprisingly, the report confirmed his concerns.

"GAO found that TSA has no internal control procedures for SSI designation, and that potentially every TSA employee can stamp something 'SSI'." Congressman Sabo said. "I don't know what the exact number of TSA employees with this authority should be, but I'm sure it shouldn't be 50,000."

Congressman Sabo's amendment caps the number of TSA employees who can designate documents as SSI. It also restricts funding to the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Security until the Secretary provides the number and titles of SSI-designated documents, identifies the total number of staff authorized to designate documents as SSI, and produces department-wide policies and auditing procedures for SSI designation.

On the overall Homeland Security Appropriations bill, Congressman Sabo expressed skepticism over beginning to distribute state formula grant awards based on risk and vulnerability versus population.

"At this time, the department does not have the expertise or personnel in place to effectively evaluate risk and vulnerability throughout the country," Congressman Sabo said. "Even if a perfect new methodology for evaluating risk were implemented today, the Department doesn't yet have the expert staff needed to make sound judgments to distribute these funds. We shouldn't give them more discretion until they can prove themselves."

Congressman Sabo has advocated a fair and clear methodology for distributing billions of dollars in urban area grants. He has repeatedly asked the Department's Office of Domestic Preparedness for its justifications for three years of these grants and has never received a decent explanation.

Congressman Sabo also continues to work to improve and increase screening air cargo carried on passenger airplanes. Last year's bill required screening to increase threefold, and this year's bill includes a provision that penalizes the Transportation Security Administration for non-compliance.

"This is still a critical security weakness, and the TSA needs to get down to business to address it," Congressman Sabo said.

Sabo also succeeded in including another key provision, which requires that all DHS contracts with companies that collect personal information are required to include notification procedures if personal information is lost or stolen. Identity theft has become increasingly problematic in recent months.

The FY06 Homeland Security Appropriations is expected to go a vote in the House of Representatives next week.