Murkowski Questions Department of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano on Issues Important to Alaska

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, during a Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing yesterday, questioned Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano regarding a recent incident involving Alaska State Representative Sharon Cissna and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. 

On a return trip to Juneau, Alaska, Rep. Cissna, a breast cancer survivor, passed through TSA’s full body image scan at airport screening.  The full body scan indicated an “anomaly” in the vicinity of her mastectomy scars.  Rep. Cissna refused the enhanced pat-down and was prohibited from boarding her flight to Alaska.  Unable to fly, she was forced to drive through Canada and take a ferry to get back to the state capitol in Juneau to rejoin the Alaska Legislative Session, a journey that took four days.

In her questioning, Sen. Murkowski asked DHS Sec. Napolitano what the TSA is doing to mitigate and address the privacy concerns for travelers that have undergone medical procedures like mastectomies and those with prosthetic limbs in an effort to ensure that individuals are not subjected to a security process that violates their personal dignity.

Sec. Napolitano stated that she was unaware of the incident or that those with medical conditions were subjected to enhanced security measures and assured the Senator that she “would look into the particular matter and provide Sen. Murkowski with a response.”

Sen. Murkowski also took the opportunity to question Sec. Napolitano regarding the current state of the Coast Guard’s ice breaker fleet.  The President’s proposed Fiscal Year 2012 budget calls for the decommissioning of the POLAR SEA in Fiscal Year 2011 and provides funding for the completion of the maintenance of the POLAR STAR.  Upon decommissioning the POLAR SEA, the Coast Guard will maintain only one heavy ice breaker in its inventory. The Coast Guard will also maintain HEALY, which is an ice breaker that is used for scientific exploration, but is not capable of handling many of the ice conditions found in the deep Arctic. With POLAR STAR not expected to return to service until 2013, the United States will not have any heavy ice breaking capability for nearly two years.

Acknowledging this shortage, Sen. Murkowski asked Sec. Napolitano what the DHS and Coast Guard’s plan was for the future of the nation’s heavy ice breaking fleet.