Travel group protests TSA staff cuts

Travel group protests TSA staff cuts

The U.S. Travel Association is protesting staff cuts that are being planned by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). 

The appropriations bill that is being considered by lawmakers for the Homeland Security Administration, which oversees the TSA, would cap the agency's employment at 45,000, which the Travel Association said Friday would result in a cut of about 600 workers. 

U.S. Travel Association President Roger Dow said the staffing cuts are a bad idea in light of TSA's failure to find fake explosives and weapons in internal tests at almost all of America's busiest airports earlier this year.

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"In light of the [Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General's] covert tests and its findings, we are concerned that previously agreed to recommendations for staffing levels will not be adequate to address the OIG recommendations," Dow wrote in a letter to House and Senate appropriators. 

"We, therefore, strongly urge that the Committee revisit its FY16 recommendations and find cost savings in other areas to allow funding for security staff to be kept at current levels rather than reduced by some 600 employees," he continued.  

The TSA has been under fire since the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general report documented a series of undercover sting operations in the spring in which agents tried to pass through security with prohibited items. Much of its findings remain classified. 

The undercover agents made it through security in nearly all the tests — 67 of 70 — including one instance in which a TSA screener failed to find a fake bomb even after the undercover agent set off a magnetometer. The screener reportedly let the agent through with the fake bomb taped to his back, having missed it during a pat-down.

Critics have often complained about the size of TSA's workforce, but Dow said Friday that it is vital to the travel industry to have effective airport security. 

"The U.S. travel industry, which generates $2.1 trillion in economic output, is an engine that is driving job creation across the United States, and is a top 10 employer in 49 states and the District of Columbia," he wrote.

"One‐in‐nine American jobs — nearly 15 million jobs across the country — is supported by the travel industry," Dow continued. "Due to the economic benefits of travel to communities around the country, U.S. Travel remains focused on key initiatives to facilitate traveler processing and screening by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)."