House panel approves funding boost for TSA

House panel approves funding boost for TSA
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A House panel on Thursday backed a funding boost for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in an effort to help the agency tamp down on growing checkpoint wait times at airports.

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The Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security approved by voice vote a fiscal 2017 spending bill that provides $7.6 billion for the TSA, $163 million above current levels and $21.8 million more than President Obama's budget request.

The Senate’s version, which was approved by of the full committee last month, would grant the TSA $7.7 billion.

The House figure would enable the agency to deploy 50 more bomb-sniffing dog teams to help expedite the screening process at busy airports.

Appropriators have kept the maximum allowed number of full-time TSA screeners at 45,000.

A group of 70 Democrats is urging the panel to lift the cap, saying it prevents the agency from effectively responding to fluctuations in air travel or heightened security threats.

“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,” they wrote in a letter to the committee.

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

The TSA currently employs 42,525 full-time screeners, and another 768  are being trained since the funding shift that was approved.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) acknowledged that the cap has caused TSA to instead focus on hiring part-time screeners, something union groups have said contributes to high attrition rates and low morale.

But Culberson’s suggestion to shape up the agency was to bring all of the fees collected by the TSA ,which help fund the agency, under the control of appropriators. He said that is a move Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is willing to support.

“I bet these agencies move like lightning,” Culberson said.