The House next week is expected to pass legislation requiring an assessment of security at Cuba's 10 international airports, in the wake of worries that relaxed standards on the island could put U.S. passengers at risk.
The Obama administration in 2016 signed an agreement with Cuba allowing 100 daily round-trip flights between the U.S. and Cuba, part of the government's move to open relations with the communist nation.
But lawmakers were given a briefing last year that revealed undisclosed problems with airport security there, which prompted a congressional hearing. However, Obama administration officials refused to talk more about these potential problems.
That will prompt the House to pass the Cuban Airport Security Act, which is scheduled for next week. The bill would require the Transportation Security Administration to study security at Cuba's airports and report back to key committees on details including what security equipment is used there, Cuba's training procedures, and airport perimeter security on the island.
That study, House lawmakers hope, will make up for the failure of the past administration to come clean about what problems might exist.
"The administration witnesses stonewalled members of Congress, claiming that answers to basic questions contained Security Sensitive Information (SSI) in spite of having briefed Committee members in March in an open setting," according to report accompanying the legislation.
The report noted that when House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, tried to schedule a congressional visit to examine Cuba's airport security measures, "all of the delegation's visas were denied."
It also said that even under President Trump, the committee "remains concerned about the security of Cuba's airport" for a few reasons. One is that U.S. air carriers are being forced to contract most of their operations workers in Cuba with the Cuban government.
"The airlines have no visibility into who the workers are, how they are vetted and how much they are paid," the report said. "This raises serious concerns about the extent of the vetting of workers with access to sensitive areas of the airport given the potentially catastrophic security threat posed by a radicalized or corrupted individual with insider access."
The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., and cosponsored by McCaul and Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J., is expected to get a vote early next week in the House. Republicans have set up the bill as a "suspension" vote, which means it will get less debate time and require a two-thirds majority vote for passage — a process normally reserved for non-controversial bills.
The vote will come several weeks after U.S. officials stationed in Cuba were returned to the U.S. after a series of mysterious "acoustic attacks" that left 24 officials injured. The U.S. responded by returning several Cuban diplomats back to their home country.