House swiftly passes bill to speed airport wait times

House swiftly passes bill to speed airport wait times
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The House easily passed a bill on Tuesday to speed up airport wait times – the first piece of legislation the chamber has passed since congressional hearings highlighted the issue of overwhelmed security lines this spring.

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Lawmakers approved by voice vote the measure, which bill sponsor Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) says will overhaul the bureaucracy at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). 

Last year, the House passed a separate measure from Katko that would expand enrollment in TSA’s PreCheck program, but the bill remains stalled in the Senate.

Katko’s latest legislation – introduced just over a week ago – would allow the TSA more flexibility to shift certain officers to screening duties; give authority to Federal Security Directors at local airports to make staffing resourcing decisions; establish a “staffing advisory committee” to coordinate with local airports and stakeholders; and reallocate dog teams to high-volume airports and checkpoints.

The bill also would require the TSA to assess its current staffing allocation model and establish minimum staffing numbers with air carriers and airports.

“With the summer travel season upon us, it should not be the case the passengers are missing flights or that airports are approaching operational ground stop due to long lines at security TSA security checkpoints,” said Katko, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security. “Today, the House took action to address this crisis. Now, it’s time for the Senate to do its job and take action on this measure.”

Officials have been scrambling to ease massive checkpoint lines that have resulted from a reduction in screening staff and an increase in travelers, which have lead to thousands of missed flights and three-hour wait times in some cases.

Lawmakers already approved a $34 million funding shift within the TSA’s current budget to hire and train new officers, which the agency said helped keep things under control during the busy Memorial Day weekend. But the TSA is waiting for another $28 million reprogramming request to be approved in order to ensure it stays that way.

“There is evidence that the initial scare over untenable security wait times generated mass corrective action, and that the situation has already improved thanks to modifications by the TSA and travelers adjusting their own behavior,” said Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Travel Association. “But it's critical that we not find ourselves in that situation again.”