Funding boost for TSA sails through committee

Funding boost for TSA sails through committee

Senate appropriators unanimously approved a spending bill on Thursday that bumps up funding for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as the agency scrambles to handle a surge in passengers while dealing with reduced staff.

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In a 30-0 vote, the Appropriations Committee advanced a fiscal 2017 spending measure that provides $48 billion for the Department of Homeland Security. The legislation now heads to the full Senate.

The TSA would get $7.7 billion under the bill — $228 million more than current levels and $79 million more than the administration’s request.

Lawmakers agreed to include a provision from Illinois Sens. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE (R) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTop Senate Dem: Public hearing is ‘only way to go’ for Kavanaugh accuser Durbin calls for delay in Kavanaugh vote Dems engage in last-ditch effort to block Kavanaugh MORE (D) that requires the TSA to consider passenger volume and airport risk assessments when deploying new canine teams.  

Chicago airports have been particularly overwhelmed, with two-hour wait times at O'Hare International Airport causing 450 people to miss their flights in one instance last month, forcing dozens to sleep at the airport overnight.

“To solve these problems head-on, I worked with my colleagues to make substantive changes to the agency that keep passengers safe and on time,” Kirk said. “An increase in canine units and more than 1,000 new staff are positive steps towards restoring smooth, safe travel for passengers nationwide.”

The agency has cut its staff in recent years because it hoped the PreCheck program would speed up the normal screening process, but not enough passengers enrolled. Massive security lines are only expected to grow worse as summer travel increases, which has sent lawmakers and officials scrambling for a fix.

The Senate’s spending bill, which wouldn’t go into effect until Oct. 1 at the earliest if passed, would provide for 1,344 additional screeners, 50 new canine teams and new explosives trace detection systems.

The draft legislation also makes investments in the TSA’s Innovation Task Force to explore technology solutions, such as testing automated lanes in airports.