TSA seeks funding to address long airport lines

TSA seeks funding to address long airport lines

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is taking new steps to minimize travel disruptions this summer, but the agency says it needs funds from Congress to beef up screening staff and reduce soaring wait times.

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Lawmakers, consumer groups and the airline industry have been raising concerns about the longer lines at airports all over the country — a problem that is only expected to get worse as summer travel increases.

Officials have attributed the rising wait times to the fact that more people are now flying as airfares and fuel prices have gone down. The TSA also cut its staff in recent years, anticipating that its PreCheck program would help expedite the normal screening process, but not enough passengers have enrolled.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Wednesday said the TSA is trying to get ahead of the problem by increasing its Transportation Security Officers and stepping up the presence of bomb-sniffing dogs, which can help expedite the checkpoint screening process.

The TSA is expanding outreach and enrollment efforts for its PreCheck program, which allows eligible travelers to go through security more quickly without removing their shoes, laptops or travel-sized liquids. The agency is also collaborating with airports and airlines to improve non-security screening operations.

“As we look ahead to the surge in summer travel, we will continue to consider a number of other steps to ensure enhanced aviation security while also maximizing efficiency at check points,” Johnson said in a statement.

But he emphasized that some of these steps are going to require money. He called on Congress to reallocate fiscal 2016 funding to pay for overtime for security officers and fulfill other “critical short-term needs.”

“These funds will allow TSA to expand the work hours of screening officers in peak periods at high volume airports,” Johnson said.

Congress may be reluctant to pump more money into the agency, which has come under fire for high-profile security lapses and been plagued by reports of mismanagement at the senior level.

But with constituents spending as long as three hours in security lines and 600 passengers missing flights in one day, lawmakers — who fly regularly themselves — may be nudged to address the issue in some capacity.

The U.S. Travel Association cautioned against “finger-pointing” when it comes to assigning blame and urged Congress and the TSA to take a well-balanced approach when exploring potential solutions.

“What is most clear is that Congress and TSA must communicate openly and forthrightly about the agency's operational needs, and that the solution must remain the only objective, rather than how to retroactively allocate blame,” said Roger Dow, the association’s president and chief executive officer.