Long lines. Missed flights. Everybody is frustrated that TSA was unprepared for the busy summer travel season. It’s clear that TSA is severely understaffed, but how did the problem start and who is responsible for the chronic summer travel nightmare? In this case, all the long lines lead straight to Capitol Hill.
Congress is stealing nearly $1.2 billion each year from TSA's airline security fees – which are supposed to go to staffing checkpoints – and instead using it to pay down the deficit and other purposes.
Making matters worse, Congress a few years ago set an arbitrary cap on the screening workforce to control how many TSA officers the agency can hire. This illogical cap on officers hinders TSA’s ability to do its job. Congress is either bad at understanding the laws of supply and demand, or bad at math, but probably both.
TSA cannot hire more than 45,000 full-time TSA officers and they're currently 3,000 officers short of that cap. Additionally, TSA Administrator Peter Neffinger testified that the agency is down by 6,000 screeners since 2011.
The volume of passengers has risen 15% from 643 million to 740 million travelers and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics projects travelers will exceed 800 million in 2016.
But, that's not all.
TSA officers are leaving. Because of low pay – many officers earn less than $15 an hour – excessive hours, and little rights on the job, TSA loses more than 100 officers a week. The agency cannot keep up with the mass exodus. According to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, TSA in 2014 hired only 373 new screeners – an abysmal number compared to the 4,644 employees who left the agency. These new hires also need to go through intensive training before they can even be on the floor screening passengers. A single mistake could mean life or death.
Why is morale so low at TSA? Because when Congress created the agency, they gave TSA the ability to set the terms and conditions of employment for TSA officers, and they chose to deny them every meaningful rights enjoyed by other federal employees. Originally, officers were not even allowed to negotiate collectively to improve their workplace. Employees had to fight for 10 years to gain the rights most government employees enjoy automatically when they enter public service.
How Congress Can Reverse Their Wrongs
The good news is, public servants are working in union to change that. Thanks to a group of concerned lawmakers, there are a few pieces of legislation recently introduced that would make the skies safe and cut down your wait time at checkpoints.
Lift the Cap
Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois has introduced the TSA Workforce Flexibility Act, a billthat would lift the cap on the number of screeners TSA may employ.
“After spending more than two decades fighting to protect our country, I can’t believe Congress would obstruct our national security professionals’ ability to keep us safe from terrorists and other threats,” said Rep. Duckworth. “But that’s just what the illogical cap on TSA screeners does. The cap makes the TSA less able to respond to unpredictable threats—that’s unjustifiable and it’s time for Congress to get out of the way so that those tasked with keeping travelers safe can do their job.”
Joining her in calling on the lifting of the cap are the bill’s co-sponsors:
House Committee on Homeland Security Ranking Member Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Reps. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, Patrick Murphy of Florida, John Lewis of Georgia, Adam Smith of Washington, Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Mike Quigley of Illinois, Eleanor Holmes Norton of District of Columbia, Bobby Rush of Illinois, Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, and Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona.
Earlier this month, Duckworth led a coalition of 70 lawmakers in calling on House leaders to do more to reduce the long security lines and implement other reforms to make a fast and secure screening process.
Return the Fee
Another important piece of legislation has been introduced as well. The Funding for Aviation Screeners and Threat Elimination Restoration Act (H.R. 5340) would send all of the proceeds of the 9-11 security fee back to TSA. The bill was introduced by House Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Pete DeFazio of Oregon, Reps. Bennie Thompson, and Bob Dold of Illinois.
“At airports across the country, people are forced to wait in long security lines like cattle, causing many to miss their flight,” said Congressman DeFazio. “To add insult to injury, funding to help fix the wait times exists – it’s just being diverted. I doubt most passengers know that a portion of the security fee they pay with every flight is being used for other purposes. With peak travel season starting this weekend, Congress needs to direct all of the designated funds towards the intended purpose in order to improve the efficiency of airport screening and keep passengers safe.”
Stop the Second-Class Treatment
Problems at TSA cannot be fixed if TSA is still one of the worst places to work in the federal government. TSA regularly ranks at the bottom or near the bottom in every employee satisfaction survey. To lift morale, TSA – and Congress – need to stop treating TSOs like second-class federal employees.
AFGE believes a good step would be passage of the Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act, which would put TSA officers on the General Schedule pay scale and provide them with much needed worker protections like the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The bill, H.R. 4488, was introduced by House Committee on Homeland Security Ranking Member Rep. Bennie Thompson and Rep. Nita Lowey of New York.
"Implementing basic worker protections for this critical workforce has been a lengthy fight and it is time for Congress to come together and enact legislation that will grant these frontline security workers the rights and benefits that they deserve,” said Congressman Thompson. “We believe these changes will increase security and will lead to an improved workforce with better morale."
Visit www.afge.org for more information on what we’re doing to help reduce long lines and promote a good, efficient workplace.