Transportation

Lawmakers seek changes in TSA PreCheck program

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As the Transportation Security Administration is leaning on its PreCheck program to help ease massive airport lines this summer, some lawmakers are calling on the agency and airlines to help make it easier for passengers to enroll in the program. 

{mosads}Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he walked along the regular security lines at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on Friday morning to ask why people weren’t enrolled in PreCheck. Passengers pointed to the hassle in signing up and delays in getting approved. 

Other people have expressed frustration over having to provide their personal information and fingerprints to the government, but lawmakers have pointed out that is part of the trade-off to being included in the expedited screening program. 

“We’ve got to make TSA PreCheck much more approachable,” Durbin said during a press conference at O’Hare with TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger. 

Durbin added that the TSA is considering rebidding its contract for the PreCheck contract. 

“So we may have some competition, and in competition for this service we may have better quality service,” he said. 

TSA announced earlier in the day that it expanded the PreCheck program to include four new airlines in an effort to speed up the screening process and enhance security. 

Officials have been racing to tackle mounting airport wait times, a problem that is only expected to grow worse as summer travel increases. 

The TSA cut its screening staff in recent years, anticipating passengers would enroll in PreCheck, but not enough people enrolled. 

The program allows passengers who have undergone background checks to move through expedited security lanes without taking off their shoes or removing their laptops from bags. 

About 7.3 million people are enrolled in the TSA’s trusted traveler programs, and the agency is aiming to have 25 million passengers in PreCheck by the end of 2019. 

But travel advocates have said that the $85 enrollment fee, process for signing up and lack of promotion for the program have prevented more people from enrolling. 

The TSA said it is not currently considering lowering the price of enrollment, which covers five years. 

Chicago Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, also speaking at Friday’s press conference, highlighted steps that would make it easier for passengers to sign up, such as allowing miles to be used to pay for the program or encouraging more companies like Microsoft to reimburse employees for the cost. 

A change that Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) wants to see, however, is bringing the fees that the TSA collects from the program under congressional oversight through the annual appropriations process. 

The senator is blocking a House-passed bill from Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) to expand the PreCheck program. The measure would require TSA to develop a process for approving marketing materials and partnering with the private sector to encourage enrollment. 

Sasse is drafting an amendment to the legislation that would bring the fees under the control of appropriators, though it’s unclear if it would have enough support. 

“Washington’s bureaucracies rarely reform themselves — pressure needs to come from public oversight and, without Congress’s power of the purse, that’s an uphill battle,” Sasse said in a statement. “I’m not interested in letting any bureaucracy circumvent Congressional oversight and make itself judge, jury, and tax collector.”

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