Democrats fight cap on TSA screeners

Democrats fight cap on TSA screeners

A group of House Democrats is pushing back against a cap on the number of full-time employees permitted at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which Democrats say leaves it ill-equipped to handle fluctuations in air travel or heightened security threats.

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Congress already approved a $34 million funding shift within the TSA’s current budget to hire and train new staff and is considering another $28 million reprogramming request so the agency can convert 2,784 transportation security officers from part-time to full-time status.

But some House lawmakers are seeking a long-term solution to growing airport checkpoint lines around the country by removing the 45,000-person limit on the number of full-time screening officers allowed at the TSA.

In a letter to leaders of the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday, 70 Democrats blasted the cap as “arbitrary” and “illogical” and urged appropriators to remove it from annual spending bills.

The TSA "must have the authority and resources to effectively protect the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce,” the letter says. “We strongly believe aviation security must never be compromised by irrational or unjustified congressional caps on the number of transportation security officers the agency may employ to best protect American travelers.”

The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), ranking member on the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Transportation, and Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.).

The fiscal 2017 Homeland Security spending bill, which was released earlier in the day, already includes the 45,000 cap on full-time screeners.

The TSA is not currently meeting the cap, as staffing levels were down to 42,525 in 2016. But the agency exceeded that number in 2013 when there was no cap, employing 47,147 full-time security officers.

Union groups have testified that the limit encourages TSA to focus on part-time employees who have higher turnover rates, which has contributed to low morale at the agency.

“While we support [the Department of Homeland Security’s] immediate corrective actions to decrease wait times, these steps are only temporary solutions,” the lawmakers wrote.