TSA reports twice the normal rate of security officers calling in sick

TSA reports twice the normal rate of security officers calling in sick
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Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents called in sick on Monday at more than double the rate they did at this time last year, according to an agency spokesman.

"This morning, TSA experienced a national rate of 7.6 percent unscheduled absences compared to a 3.2 percent rate one year ago, Monday, January 15, 2018," Michael Bilello, TSA's assistant administrator for public affairs, tweeted.

"Most importantly, security standards remain uncompromised at our nation’s airports," he added.

The spike in absences comes as the partial government shutdown enters its 24th day, meaning TSA agents have been working without pay for more than three weeks. The shutdown became the longest in U.S. history on Saturday.

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Reports for weeks have indicated that TSA officers are staying home or even quitting at higher rates, with hundreds of agents calling in sick last week from some of the country's largest airports.

Funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees TSA, and several other departments lapsed on Dec. 22. About 55,000 TSA employees, who screen about 800 million airplane passengers each year, are considered essential employees and are required to work without pay during the shutdown.

Many agents missed their first paycheck on Friday.

The callouts could be a form of protest, sources have told multiple media outlets.

TSA has acknowledged that absences have increased but insist security has not been compromised. 

"Wait times [for travelers] may be affected depending on the number of call outs," a TSA spokesman acknowledged in a statement to The Hill on Jan. 4. 

Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Sunday closed the TSA checkpoint at one of its terminals amid the ongoing government shutdown. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) blamed the government shutdown in part for the closure, saying in a tweet, "Shortage of TSA workers, unpaid during the US gov’t shutdown, is causing this change." 

"Every day I’m getting calls from my members about their extreme financial hardships and need for a paycheck," Hydrick Thomas, the TSA council president for the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement last week. "Some of them have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this shutdown."  

President TrumpDonald John TrumpForget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations Lara Trump: Merkel admitting migrants 'one of the worst things that ever happened to Germany' Financial satisfaction hits record high: survey MORE is demanding $5.7 billion in funding for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but Democrats are refusing that request. The standoff led to the partial government shutdown. 

Trump on Monday said he is standing by his demand for border wall funding.

"Delays at airports across the country today because of TSA staffing issues are a direct result of the Trump Shutdown,” Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDems accuse White House of caving to Trump's 'ego' on Russian meddling De Blasio vows to take Trump to court over sanctuary city proposal The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement.

“Because of President Trump's childish refusal to reopen the government unless he gets his way, over 50,000 TSA Transportation Security Officers are forced to work without pay with no end in sight. Now, many are understandably looking for other work to make ends meet.”

Thompson added that aviation security could be hurt if the government does not reopen soon.

“I hope President Trump realizes that being responsible for the longest government shutdown in history is no badge of honor — it will have untold negative consequences for months to come,” he said.

Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report, which was updated at 2:35 p.m.