Travel groups urge Congress to pass TSA modernization bill

Travel groups urge Congress to pass TSA modernization bill
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A coalition of travel groups is urging Congress to pass legislation that would modernize the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as the agency deals with a surge in travel and evolving threats to aviation.

In a letter to Senate leadership on Tuesday, the groups urged the upper chamber to take up a TSA reauthorization bill that would speed up the deployment of new screening technologies at security checkpoints, increase safety in the public areas at airports and reduce travel delays.

The measure, which was approved by committee earlier this month, would also grant the agency additional tools to expand its PreCheck program, which allows expedited screening in exchange for pre-vetting passengers.

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Expanding the program has been a top priority for groups like the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), U.S. Travel Association and Travelers United, which all signed on to the letter.

“When it comes to business travel, we need to adopt policies that support our business travelers and help the industry grow,” said Michael McCormick, executive director and COO of the GBTA.

“The bill would give TSA increased flexibility to mitigate future threats and safely facilitate travel. Specifically, the bill would provide TSA with new tools to securely expand PreCheck and drive enrollment, a key goal for the travel community.”

The push for a modernization bill comes on the heels of TSA’s busiest summer ever: Approximately 239 million passengers and crew members were screened at checkpoints from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Last spring, when air travel first began to surge thanks to low fuel prices and an improving economy, the agency was not prepared to handle the influx of travelers. The TSA quickly beefed up enrollment in PreCheck to help ease massive security lines around the country.

But the travel community wants to see a continued focus on expanding expedited screening programs.

“It is clear that the rate with which air travel continues to grow outpaces the PreCheck’s current rate of enrollment,” the groups wrote. “More than ever, it is important to build on the success of the PreCheck program.”

The Senate legislation also comes at a time when the TSA is dealing with heightened threats to aviation, with U.S. officials warning that terrorists are exploring innovative ways to smuggle bombs onto planes.

The TSA began implementing new screening procedures for electronics larger than a cellphone at all domestic airports last month, while the administration rolled out stricter security measures for all airports with direct flights to the U.S. earlier this summer.

“The risk to aviation security continues to evolve as terrorists continue to look for new ways to carry out deadly attacks on our nation’s aviation system. New threats continue to emerge,” the groups wrote.

“While PreCheck does not necessarily allay these threats, it is an important tool for TSA that removes risk from aviation security and is an important part of the agency’s risk based approach to aviation security.”