House panel to hold hearing on long airport lines

House panel to hold hearing on long airport lines
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As anger over massive airport lines nears a boiling point, a House panel is planning a hearing next week on how Congress can help ease soaring airport wait times this summer.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said his panel will hold a hearing ahead of Memorial Day weekend. 

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“This is suddenly an out-of-control situation,” McCaul told The Hill on Monday. “There’s an angry traveling public.”

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator Peter Neffenger, airline companies and airport executives will discuss the growing airport lines around the country that are causing scores of passengers to miss their flights.

An exact date for the hearing has not been scheduled yet.

McCaul added that he is meeting with airport executives and authorities later this week to discuss potential legislation to tackle the issue, such as through providing greater staffing flexibility to TSA.

“We want to make sure they’re okay with the concept we’re trying to do,” he said. “One of the biggest issues is overtime pay and giving TSA more flexibility.”

TSA officials have been warning that airport lines are expected to spike as summer travel increases. The agency cut its screening staff in recent years, anticipating its PreCheck program would expedite the normal screening process, but not enough passengers enrolled.

TSA is also contending with stepped-up security efforts after the Brussels airport terrorist attack, which has contributed to increased wait times.

Many lawmakers who travel on planes regularly are already feeling the pain. McCaul said fellow members were complaining about the issue during House floor votes on Monday evening, while Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) fumed at a recent hearing about his “night from Hell” after missing a flight.

“I was on the phone for hours,” Mica said during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on TSA misconduct last week. “And you can't get a hold of a damn person in TSA, even as a member of Congress."

Lawmakers already agreed to shift $34 million from within TSA’s current budget to immediately allow the agency to hire and train nearly 800 new screening officers and provide overtime for current ones, but some have questioned whether it’s enough to alleviate the problem.

Others, like House Oversight Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzThe myth of the conservative bestseller Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records MORE (R-Utah), worry the extra money doesn’t address the underlying issue, which is that TSA is struggling to retain its screening staff.

“You don’t just flip on the light switch and suddenly hire 500 more agents,” Chaffetz said Monday night. “Think of it like a bathtub: they’ve been draining out the bottom faster than they’ve been pouring it in the top.”

The Oversight panel has already held a number of hearings on TSA this year, largely focused on reports of mismanagement within the agency. But Chaffetz said mounting airport wait times will likely prompt additional hearings this year.

“They’re regular customers at the Oversight Committee,” he said. “I suspect that they will be back.”