With help from Brianna Gurciullo
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— In an exclusive, TSA chief David Pekoske talked to POLITICO about his goals for his five-year term at the agency and how he’s balancing his dual roles at TSA and DHS.
— FAA’s top commercial space official said it’s too soon to tell if there’s anything “fundamentally wrong” with the agency’s proposal to modify the launch and reentry licensing process, but that FAA would be willing to re-evaluate it.
— DOT Secretary Elaine Chao tapped Mala Parker to become FHWA’s new acting deputy administrator.
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PEKOSKE CHATS ABOUT HIS FUTURE AT TSA: Our Brianna Gurciullo recently sat down with Pekoske, who’s celebrating his two-year anniversary at the agency, to discuss his tenure so far and what he hopes to achieve during the remainder of his term.
On his accomplishments, Pekoske said he’s prioritized the infusion of technology into airport screening checkpoints, including the deployment of 3D X-ray machines for carry-on bags. “That’s probably going to be the biggest game changer of all,” he said.
Over the next three years, he said he’d like to work with federal partners as well as industry and passenger groups to help TSA improve both aviation and surface transportation security, acquire advanced technology more quickly, ensure TSA stays agile, and improve employee morale.
In the meantime, Pekoske said he remains committed to holding on to his position as TSA chief while also serving as DHS’ deputy secretary for “as long as the acting secretary wants me in the role.” He explained, “I think you need some consistency with leaders, and we’ve had a lot of change at the top of TSA.”
As DHS’ acting deputy secretary, Pekoske has helped to oversee the redeployment of hundreds of TSA employees to the southern border. He said he expects the redeployment rates to slow in the coming weeks to match the currently reduced flow of immigrants attempting to enter the country from Mexico but warned that it’s possible traffic will spike again in September or October.
ON A RELATED NOTE: Orlando public radio station 90.7 WMFE is out with a new report based on its investigation of a TSA agent’s suicide at the Orlando airport in February. According to the outlet, multiple agents allege that Robert Henry, who jumped off a hotel balcony inside the airport, had been bullied by colleagues and managers at work. Dozens of others said there was a “pattern of abuse and retaliation at Orlando International Airport and across TSA,” per the story.
TSA told the station that its own investigation concluded Henry hadn’t been bullied. In a statement, the agency said that “TSA leadership initiated an administrative inquiry immediately after the death of our officer and has continued to actively investigate personnel concerns raised by our workforce.” Acting Deputy Administrator Patricia Cogswell also said TSA attorneys were currently reviewing its report, which the agency plans to make public.
T-MINUS 4 DAYS: Comments on a proposed rule to overhaul the FAA’s commercial space launch and reentry licensing process are set to close this Monday, after the comment period was extended twice. So far, the proposal has received some criticism from industry. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation, for instance, asserted the rule would institute new “prescriptive” requirements instead of establishing a “performance-based regulatory regime” as the FAA intended.
Houston, do we have a problem? Wayne Monteith, the FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation, told reporters Thursday that it’s too soon to say whether anything in the proposal is “fundamentally wrong,” as comments are still coming in. “We have to balance all of the inputs that we get,” Monteith said. “But I will tell you as part of the rulemaking process, if we identify something that fundamentally missed the mark, there is a process for us to readdress that.” The timing of a final rule “will depend on the nature of the comments,” Monteith said. “I would not even hazard to take a guess.”
On the horizon: Monteith also said he’s aiming to have his office restructured by the end of 2019. Eventually, the organization will need to grow, Monteith predicted, especially once the new licensing rule is adopted.
CLOSE CALL: A Russian passenger jet was forced to make an emergency landing in a field outside of a Moscow airport on Thursday after hitting a flock of birds. The Ural Airlines A321 was carrying 226 passengers and a crew a seven. Russian officials said at least 55 people required medical assistance on the scene and 29 were taken to a local hospital because of the emergency landing, CBS News reports.
ALL ABOUT TIMING: DOT posted its latest air travel consumer report on Thursday and found that on-time arrivals had dipped slightly for the month of June. Commercial carriers had an on-time arrival rate of 73.3 percent compared with 77.9 percent in May and 76.4 percent in June 2018, according to the department. It also found that carriers canceled slightly more domestic flights and had more tarmac delays exceeding three hours for domestic flights this June compared with last year. In addition, the report showed that American Airlines and Southwest Airlines bumped more passengers following the Boeing 737 MAX’s grounding, Reuters reported.
— Parker will step in as acting deputy FHWA administrator, replacing Brandye Hendrickson, who left earlier this summer, Brianna reports. Parker will also hold on to her title as associate administrator for highway policy and external affairs — a position she has held for the past two years.
— Staci Pies is joining communications infrastructure company Crown Castle as vice president of government affairs, our colleagues at Morning Tech report. Pies was previously senior policy counsel at Google.
— “Labor tensions flare at American Airlines over hundreds of canceled flights.” CNBC.
— “Texas-Alabama tussle heats up over where to locate new moon program.” POLITICO Pro.
— “UPS buys stake in TuSimple, testing self-driving trucks in Arizona.” Reuters.
— ”Updated U.S., Canada Preclearance deal becomes official.” POLITICO Pro.
— “Among D.C.’s bike lanes, the oldest and most popular has ‘highest injury risk,’ study says.” Washington Post.
— “FAA poised to say pilots don’t need fresh 737 Max simulator training.” Bloomberg.
DOT appropriations run out in 45 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 1,506 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 411 days.