Top Democrat raises concerns about airport security amid shutdown

A top House Democrat is raising concerns that the government shutdown could be negatively impacting security at major airports across the United States.

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonHillicon Valley: Senators ask Trump to halt Huawei licenses | Warren criticizes Zuckerberg over secret dinner with Trump | Senior DHS cyber official to leave | Dems offer bill on Libra oversight Senior DHS cyber official to step down Democratic lawmaker introduces bill to tackle online terrorist activity MORE (D-Miss.) wrote a letter to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) chief David Pekoske on Monday asking him to specify the number of officers that have called out of work each day of the shutdown.

“It is only reasonable to expect officer call outs and resignations to increase the longer the shutdown lasts, since no employee can be expected to work indefinitely without pay,” Thompson wrote.

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“I am concerned if wait times and public pressure increase, some TSA managers may try to manage the effects of the shutdown in ways that are detrimental to security,” he continued. “The security of aviation passengers must always be paramount.” 

In his letter, Thompson cited a CNN report late last week that scores of TSA officers had called out from work at four major airports in the United States, including John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.

When reached for comment, a TSA spokesman told The Hill that the administration has not seen “significant numbers” of callouts but that it would not provide specific figures to the public because that would present a “security concern.”

“We’re not seeing significant numbers of people calling out and have not seen operational impacts,” the spokesman said, noting that over 99 percent of passengers screened at U.S. airports on Sunday, a historically busy day for air travel, waited less than 30 minutes.

The roughly 50,000 TSA officers working at airports across the country are considered essential staff, meaning they are required to report to work even in the event of a shutdown. These workers will not get a paycheck until after the stalemate over government funding is resolved and a spending package is approved by Congress and then signed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpWatergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump In private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book Obama: 'Everybody needs to chill out' about differences between 2020 candidates MORE.

Thompson asked Pekoske, the TSA administrator, to explain how the TSA is mitigating staffing shortages amid callouts and whether the administration has made any changes to security policies, procedures or operations amid the shutdown.

The congressman also asked whether the administration has a “contingency plan” to address mass callouts or resignations and, if so, whether that plan had been communicated widely to those in the field. 

The TSA spokesman said the administration would respond “as appropriate.”